Do Good Stories Ever Go Out of Fashion?

Immy is currently loving the picture book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. First published in 1968, it is a story I remember from my own childhood, as I do other picture book classics which Immy enjoys; titles like Titch and Rosie’s Walk have quickly become firm favourites when we’ve borrowed them from the library.

And while I admit that ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ includes what many would consider outdated values and features old fashioned lifestyle ideals – our groceries are certainly not delivered by a boy on a bike and our milk is not delivered in glass bottles – it is a fun, imaginary story which I currently read at least three times a day!

That being said, we read just as many new, modern titles with more politically correct ideals (and mix them up with a good dose of regular non-fiction as well) as we do fairy tales and stories from previous generations. I honestly think Immy is exposed to a broad range of age appropriate literature, and who am I to dictate which stories she should (or will) enjoy the most?

When I came across this article over the weekend, a piece from the UK Guardian describing changes the publishers are making to ten of the wonderful Famous Five novels by classic children’s author, Enid Blyton, to remove “old-fashioned language and dated expressions,” I was completely confounded. These books were written in the 1940’s, I read them in the late 1970’s and I certainly don’t remember being greatly concerned that the author used expressions such as “mercy me!” or “fellow,” and seriously, what is with the perceived need to change “it’s all very peculiar” to “it’s all very strange”?

Are we giving our children enough credit, especially when it comes to their capacity for reading comprehension, their (developing) ability to recognise fantasy as separate to reality, and their capacity to learn about the past, as distinct from today, and indeed, from the future?

Should all children’s stories represent modern life? Is there no place for fantasy, or the enjoyment of ‘historical’ themes and the often rich, authentic language from a time gone by?

Obviously there is, when titles such as Lizzie Nonsense by Jan Ormerod, published in 2004, are shortlisted for a Children’s Book Council of Australia award. Another favourite picture book in our house, ‘Lizzie Nonsense’ shares the experience of pioneer Australian women and children left alone in the harsh Australian bush whilst male family members work away.

I think I agree most with the comments of Tony Summerfield, who runs the Enid Blyton Society, who states in the Guardian article that he is;

“Thoroughly against unnecessary changes just for the sake of it, from adults who underestimate the intelligence of children”. He added: “I am in approval of changing language which has perhaps become offensive or has different meanings, or any racist references.”

We really need to stop spoon feeding our children, teach them to be discerning in all areas of their life, and trust them to understand, or to ask questions when they do not. Let’s allow them to experience the richness of good children’s literature, whenever it was first published. As it is. After all, those stories which have survived the test of time, will surely never truly go out of fashion?

What classic picture book titles do you remember from your own childhood? Have you shared them with your own children?


  1. OMG!! I had sooo forgotten about "The Tiger Who Came to Tea", but that picture just jolted something in my memory banks!

    We spent a bit of time at Op Shops last week (Princess' new favourite places) and bought over a dozen Golden books, one of which I had as a child. She has quite a few books that I once owned (although not my books as I have no idea what happened to them), and they are read just as much as her movie based little books from the supermarket, the Charlie and Loa and Dora books, and anything else that has made it onto her shelves.

    How sad about the Enid Blyton books. Now I am definitely going shopping after pay day to the second hand bookshop and seeing what I can get. What next? Rewriting "Pride and Prejudice"? Haven't we done that enough through television and the movies?

  2. We love "The Tiger Who Came to Tea" and like the previous poster, I haunt opshops and have started creating a bookshelf for Little B for as he grows older.

    I look for books I loved as a kid and a lot of the old classics.

    I cant believe they want to update Enid Blyton though. Surely kids can adapt plus it's nice to read them older style language.

    Little B is only 3.5 and he loves me to read him chapters from "Wind in the Willows" and the writing is VERY old fashioned.

    "Golly gee" what will they think of next 🙂

  3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is probably the most dog eared book in my little man's collection. I loved this story when I was little!

    I also picked up Meg & Mog for a friend's 1 year old daughter and whilst I don't remember the storyline, just looking at the cover brought me back to a memory of my Year 1 teacher reading it to the class. The Tiger Who Came To Tea evokes a similar memory…

    As for Enid Blyton, I think it's sad that they're to be updated. I read The Faraway Tree stories to 6 & 8 year old boys I nannied – first book was the original version and the second was one with updated (more modern?) names. They said they didn't even like the new names and could I please try read their proper names instead! 🙂

  4. Love the Tiger who CAme to Tea and that lovely nostalgic feeling of reading books with our kids that we read as kids.

    Just started reading The Faraway series to Ella and can see a little why there are some concerns about being outdated (of course the names Dick and Fanny which I cant see any kids being called these days, lots of things being called "queer" and "very queer" which of course has a different connotation now than then, and even "fat" prob not PC.

    The main thing I have noticed (as has Ella commented on) is the amount of angry characters and hitting that happens throughout.

    All that aside though still lovely fun books and think mostly a case of PC going way to far – remember all the hoo hah about Baa Baa Black Sheep a while back some kindy changed it to Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep

    And wasnt there something about Golliwogs being banned (such as from Noddy and the soft toys and biscuits etc)

  5. The Tiger Who Came To Tea is one of Kezi's favourite books. We've read it so many times we can't skip anything or she knows!!

  6. Shar Dean says:

    Where the Wild Things Are profoundly affected me as a child, I love it and have enjoyed reading it to children including my own for the past 20+ years. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Hairy McClary From Donaldson's Dairy are a few of my long standing favourites, oh and Going on a Bear Hunt!

    I agree re changing words. I think in most cases it is unnecessary and does not give children credit. I teach in an International school and live with my daughter in a very multicultural community. Daily we come across differences in the way people use English. I can't even start to cover all the difference now but for example, but my daughter at 4 learnt that a 'thong' is quite a different article of clothing to the ones she wears on her feet in Australia. Words, spellings it's a minefield between cultures/countries, but for the children – they cope. Sometimes there is a bit of confusion, often humour, but all easily dealt with with an explanation and our vocabulary and cultural understanding is enriched in the process.

    When I read The Tiger Who Came to Tea with my little girl we had a great chat about milk bottles from the 'olden days'. The cream on the top and the great things we used to make with bottle top caps.

    Personally I don't see unPC or comprehension concerns but rich learning opportunities.

    ps I hope you won't mind that I have added a link to your blog on my own (new) blog.

  7. SquiggleMum says:

    What a great post Christie! Definitely one I'll share around. I too think there is something lovely about old books. They tell children what life was like at a certain time and place. Most of all though I love stories that are so perfectly told they cross generations effortlessly. I suspect my children will read "Where The Wild Things Are" and "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" to their children, and possibly their grandchildren…

  8. Juliet Robertson says:

    Oh the good ones do last…

    Harry the Dirty Dog – by Gene Zion. All the Harry books are wonderful.

    The Snowy Day – Ezra Jack Keats. Best snow book out. Her other books are great too.

    Gordon the Big Engine – W Awry. All these train books are great.

    The book I miss most of all isn't a picture book. But it's from Australia called "Bottersnikes and Gumbles" by SA Wakefield.

  9. Michael and Wendy says:

    Grug has recently been re-released and are fabulous!

    I also was recently reintroduced to the wonders of the Happy Lion (which to my delight has the also introducing the children to a bit of french)

  10. Meredith @ thinkthinks says:

    So true about underestimating the intelligence of children. I read The Coral Island to my daughter when she was just 8. She loved it, and has adored reading the Famous Five to herself over the years – some of them my mum's copies from when she was a girl. Kids get that the language sets the tone for a story.

  11. Cathy @ NurtureStore says:

    The Tiger Who Came to Tea is one of our favourites -in fact I did a post on it last week with some fae painting and puppet ideas on a tiger theme. Children of course need to read a wide range of books, but I think it's especially nice to share a book you yourself loved as a child.

  12. The Sunshine Crew says:

    Great post! thanks for sharing!
    I have never read The Tiger Who Came to Tea but will now have to look for a copy.
    As far as classics from my childhood, Am lucky in that we have some of the actual books from my childhood that my mom saved so when I read them a big from my youth, it is literally my book from my youth.
    When I was a little girl, belonged to a club called Weekly Reader Children's Book Club. Every week, they mailed me a new book. So, my children have my copies of books that are now out of print, such Where's Wallace? by Hilary Knight and Walter the Wolf by Marjorie Sharmat.
    I have also shared Mittens, Barkis, Marshmallow, and April's Kittens by Clare Turlay Newberry, as I loved these books as a child.
    In the book, April's Kittens, her cat has a litter of kittens. That is something that most American children would never experience today, as nearly all pets are spayed and neutered if bought from a shelter, and that is the most acceptable place to buy a pet such as a kitten these days…
    The only book that became an issue as far as their outdated nature so far is Doctor Dan, the Bandage Man by Helen Gaspard which I still read to my sons but then explained how it used to be okay for children to play with toy guns and that is no longer the case here in the US.

  13. Mom and Kiddo says:

    Goodnight, Owl! was one of my favorites and I loved reading it to my son. Oh, and Angus and the Ducks. Some of my favorites, though, I can't find anymore.

  14. My sister got that book for my son's 3rd birthday.

    I also bought all the Roal Dahl kids books before I even had kids as they were my favourite growing up and I want to have them for my children.

    We also got the Hungry Catepillar for a present when my first son was born and both the boys love it. It was the first book I read to them before and after they were born

  15. Inigo was given "The Tiger Who Came to Tea" for his second birthday, and it is a favourite. And last week we started reading "The Muddle Headed Wombat", which I remember from my childhood, and I can see is going to be a firm favourite too 🙂

  16. I hadn't encountered that article or heard anything about this stuff. I'm so glad you brought it to my attention! I think it's terribly sad to think that we have to change older books to reflect more modern speech patterns or habits–even changing things we find offensive seems a little inappropriate. I know it's not a picture book, but I recently pulled out a copy of "The Phoenix and the Carpet" for my son. As I started to read it, I was reminded of how much I had learned from that book. A fight between the children where one insists, "One word can't be grammar"–I didn't know what "grammar" was and really had to sort out what they were arguing about. And what was paraffin? Much like the Narnia books, which were the way I learned about the WWII evacuation of London. Nonfiction is great, and historical fiction certainly has its place, but there is so very much to be learned from reading things that come straight from another time, where ideas like that are not presented as teaching tools; they're presented as "the way things are," because at the time, they were. And really, the same is true of potentially offensive or racist content. I admit that I haven't read it for close to 30 years, but I had a copy of "Little Black Sambo" that I loved as a kid, and all I got from it was: a kid outwitted a tiger. I understand it's considered to be extremely insensitive, but I didn't know that. And reading it with my kids, rather than a changed, "appropriate" version, would give us the chance to talk about why people might take offense.

    Books were (and are) such an important part of my life, I hate to see anyone suggesting that they ought to be "updated." Write a modern version if you think it would be a good book, but don't destroy the original in the name of progress. Thanks for bringing this up, Christie!

  17. I've never read The Tiger Who Came To Tea but I will definitely be on the lookout for it.

    I really enjoy buying books at our local thrift store. I've found all kinds of great stories that my kids love. Some of our favorites include:
    Katy No Pockets
    Herbert the Lion
    Robert the Rose Horse
    Anything by PD Eastman

  18. Pingback: Lions and Tigers and Tea – oh my! « SquiggleMum
  19. I think exposing our children to literature which was published in another time period is a great way to talk about how language changes over time and what influences that.

    Sometimes I don’t realise what an impact particular books had on me as a child until I spot them in the library or at a second hand store.

    I have quite a few Little Golden books that were special to me:
    We Like Kindergarten.
    Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present
    The Man Who Didn’t wash His Dishes.

  20. What a great post Christie. We too love Little Golden Books here and I have plenty that are originals (thrifted or from my childhood) and they include older language,
    The New Baby
    The Bear In The Boat
    Doctor Dan The Bandage Man
    and lots and lots more! I love them and love reading something so familiar to me to my girls and having them fall in love with them too.
    We are also Enid Blyton fans and I’m thankful that I have so many of my own AND my mother’s copies.

  21. Goodness! Good stories never go out of fashion!
    The “peculiar” to “strange” change – dumbfounds me. Most vocabulary acquisition occurs during reading – by simplifying vocabulary, we are doing a disservice to our children. And keeping cultural/historical details only helps children learn how our world changes and grows. This practice by publishers irritates me. Thanks for a great article.

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