On January 16, 2012 by Eden M. Kennedy

In honor of Martin Luther King Day (or, if you depend on Twitter for your research, Martian Luther King Day, or maybe Martin Lutheran King Day), I woke Jackson up and told him he had the day off school to think about peace and forgiveness and racism. Which is timely, because he told me they’re going to read Huck Finn in class next year. According to an older kid at Jackson’s school, they use the original version, not the “sanitized” one. As a purist, I am sort of glad about that? I dig that they’re sticking with the version Twain wrote in all its post-antebellum glory, and I completely trust his teachers’ ability to guide a mixed-race classroom through the subtleties, ironies, and vagaries of the text. (I think Twain’s pretty blunt, actually. Plus there’s plenty of action.) But part of me thinks the themes are too big to grasp at that age. They’re gearing up with Tom Sawyer right now, and frankly, Jackson seems more prepared than I was at ten to examine his conscience and inherited beliefs. Huck didn’t have much appeal for me at that age; once Becky Thatcher fell out of the picture I think it felt too much like a boys-only story. It wasn’t until I wandered into a post-grad course on Melville and Twain and read all of his travel writings that I got fully back on board the Twain train. (I will also recommend Melville’s Typee if you’re interested in avoiding Moby Dick. It’s full of ships and exotic lady savages and longing for simplicity and all that unironic 19th-century stuff.) In the end, he’ll read it now and if he’s lucky he’ll read it again as an adult and it will be a whole new book for him.

(Thanks to a suggestion that Jackson read Origami Yoda and Darth Paper, we made some origami cranes and put them in their origami nests. It’s a post-racial way to honor MLK, as we judged these cranes not by the color of their paper, but by our ability to fold them without making them all wrinkly and sad.)



4 Responses to “Got MLK”

  • I am completely shocked there is an annotated version of Huck Finn that kids read. Wow, that’s weird. Either don’t read it or read the actual thing?

    But then it’s such a great book for kids. And so you want kids to read it. Judging from the incredibly lengthy slightly wacky convos with my daughter about slavery and race though maybe some public school teachers aren’t up to the task of having such conversations–so I guess I can see why they excise. Nevertheless, I find that kind of depressing though because you’d think if there was one thing kids should tackle right off in American History and literature it would be the legacy of slavery.

  • Right? I loved the quote on the NPR page about how reading “nigger” in Huck Finn taught that person not to use it in life. I wonder sometimes if it’s the people who really need to read it who get “protected” from it. Also, I love scare quotes, “it seems.”

  • I ALWAYS see MLK as “milk” and have been waiting for someone to find a joke in it somehow. Ah, satisfaction.

  • Yup! Totally feel the same way about Huckleberry Finn. Always loved Tom Sawyer (I was a tomboy for so long I just kind of identified with the characters). I jumped to Huck Finn afterwards and read it, but didn’t quite appreciate it until I was older. I think it’s a good adventure story when you’re around 9 or so. Some of the kids might get the deeper messages, and most probably won’t, but that’s ok. It’ll get the ball rolling in their little brains (if it isn’t already). And kudos to your son’s teacher for going with the unabridged, unedited version! The censorship of someone else’s written word to conform to today’s standards and morals is a far worse crime than the word itself. You can’t change history, but you can certainly learn from it.