An Open Letter to Mary Downing Hahn

Dear Ms. Hahn:

I recently read Took to my fourth and fifth grade classes.  They loved the book, as I suspected they would.  I told the children many times how you were my favorites children’s author and have been since I read Wait Till Helen Comes. They loved the chapters where Auntie was talking and shivered with every mention of Bloody Bones.  This book was just what I promised them it would be.

And a little more.  Little did I know that I would be using this book to teach about prejudice and stereotyping.  How disappointing that this wonderful story reinforces the negative stereotypes and bad jokes that we West Virginians have been battling for decades.  I am certain that your story will reinforce a negative image of my state in our youngest generation.  Shame on you!

There was a lot of accuracy in your depiction: the rundown town left nearly vacant as coal mining jobs have dwindled away.  The lack of jobs that forced the father to take a low-paying job at Home Depot.  The kind bus driver.  The neighbors who jumped in to help strangers.  The clothes the children wear to school, jeans and tee shirts, were accurate, although you described them as if this were derogatory, rather than a personal preference or perhaps a fact of the economy.  How dare you make light of those who have suffered hard times?

The most glaring indication of your lack of knowledge of West Virginia was your depiction of the schools, with the antiquated equipment, rigid teaching strategies, and no children’s work displayed.  How far this is from the reality of West Virginia schools!

Are you aware the West Virginia has led computer integration in schools since the early 1980s?  In 2003  West Virginia was one of only two states to receive an A in technology integration.  We take pride in the strides our state has made in our schools.

Our teachers take pride in providing a safe, nurturing atmosphere where all children and their work is celebrated.  Just as teachers do in other states, we work hard to provide the best differentiated strategies for all our students.

West Virginians and other southern Appalachian citizens seem to be the only people it is socially acceptable to stereotype.  We are accustomed to the ignorance portrayed in your book, such as the reference to people marrying their cousins.  We see it all this time in network television shows, sportscasts, and cinema.  We take umbrage at such references, but you have taken this to a new level:  you are perpetuating falsehoods among children.  Shame on you!