When Your Child Brings a Sexist Book Home from Jewish Day School

The truth is that I don’t remember the name of the book. Something innocuous, something to do with sewing and the first flag and maybe even Betsy Ross. Something nicely Philadelphian and, given that she brought it home from the school library, something certainly age-appropriate for my kindergartener.

Age-appropriateness isn’t the only kind of appropriateness to be concerned about with kids’ media, but to be honest we’ve never heavily screened the books that our children read. For the younger ones, we still do the reading with them, so we can talk with them about the messages that make us uncomfortable or with which we disagree. Sometimes it’s even a good opportunity to explain our values or worldview and how it differs from the book, or to ask them what they think about how something is presented or plays out. It’s rare though: most of the books we get are pretty great, and the other ones tend to fall out of (read: be removed from) circulation fairly quickly.

Library day is every Wednesday for kindergartners at her Jewish Day School. My daughter is always really excited for me to read her the book she’s come home with. They’re usually fine; classic kids’ stories or something nicely historical designed to appeal to just her age group. This one was a little older, a little more battered, with well-loved pages and the marks of time.

Just like a lot of classic kids’ books. Just like nearly every book I own.

She was so excited for me to read it with her: a book about sewing (which she loves), featuring a young girl with siblings (just like her), set in her very own city (not far from her house). I certainly didn’t think to read it to myself first—it was coming from her school library, from the section designated specifically for kindergarteners, with all the markings of a book that has stood the test of time.

Time’s a funny thing though. The books of the (recent) past sometimes have very different subtle (or not so subtle!) messages than the books of the present. Especially books about girls and sewing and post-revolutionary Philadelphia.