Recently a reader shared her distress in learning that some children’s books had been altered to remove “unsuitable” materials.
She wanted to know who makes these determinations and how changes are cleared with the author.
Her local librarian assured her that books in the public library were original, as written, and the librarian was unaware of altered books.
Should classic literature be censored? Even if it is for kids?
Dear Reader: How painful to imagine an author’s words altered because someone found parts unsuitable!
There are reports of librarians finding words inked out with permanent marker. Adding to that, we have numerous books some individuals want banned because of content or word usage.
However I, like the librarian you questioned, am unaware of any authors who have agreed to having their words reconfigured to placate an individual’s disagreement with the book. I will continue to delve into this issue and keep you posted on my findings.
Yet your letter did remind me that images have been removed from books.
Yes, books have been censored in the past
Several years ago I wrote about how HarperCollins digitally removed the cigarette from Clement Hurd’s hand in his 1947 photograph that appears on the book jacket from “Goodnight Moon.”
Kate Jackson, editor-in-chief of HarperCollins Children’s Books, noted that the image of a cigarette does not need to be in the back cover of a children’s book.
As advocates of healthy living, we all might agree. But as a lover of literacy and critical thinking, I wonder:
“Just because we can magically remove present-day culturally offensive items from books, should we?”
Given the current zeitgeist of altering the truth with technology, I feel like the runaway bunny trying to escape from the authorities who insist that they know what’s best for me.
But running away is as juvenile as eliminating images that offend.
Use inappropriate or offensive content to spur conversation with your kids
I contend that much more would be gained by discussing the image with children, locating the 1947 copyright date, and talking about how much medical research has learned about smoking in the past 70-plus years since Hurd’s picture was taken.
My hunch is that many 21st-century pre-school children have viewed images of their great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers or other relatives smoking cigarettes or pipes inside the yellowed pages of old photograph albums.
I would hope that the children would not consider their ancestors to be evil or dim-witted because of a cigarette. (After all, Clement Hurd was a Yale graduate who studied art in Paris before becoming a world-renown illustrator.)
But more importantly, I hope grown-ups will help children situate an image within the historical and cultural context of the times.
Images provide opportunities for discussion and learning.
While reading “Three Bears in a Boat” by David Soman, I came across a sailor known as an “old salt” smoking a pipe. Studying the page, my 3-year-old granddaughter questioned what was in his hand.
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Three little bears break their mother's beautiful blue seashell by accident. And so, knowing that they are in a lot of trouble, they quickly set out in their sailboat to find another one to replace it before she discovers what they have done. Along the way, the intrepid trio encounter interesting creatures and characters, as well as mysterious islands, but it takes them literally weathering a terrible storm together, in the same boat, before they realise how they can truly atone for their mistake. The beautiful watercolours will sweep you along on the bears' epic voyage, and the valuable life lesson gleaned feels well earned rather than simplistic and trite. A sweet story on the importance of taking responsibility for your own actions, with a little nod to Max's sailboat in Where the Wild Things Are, as well as the heartwarming resolution. (Age: 4+) 🐻🐻🐻⛵️🐚 #threebearsinaboat #davidsoman #dialbooks #ptbooksonbears #ptbooksonadventure #ptbooksfor4yo #picturebooks #childrensbooks #kidlitart #kidlit #littlebookworm #kidsbookreview #kidsbookstagram #readtome #littlereader #raisingreaders #readtoyourkids #raiseareader #bookaday #bedtimestory #childrensliterature #絵本 #picturethisbook
After we talked about it, I praised her for asking about the novel item. Imagine not having those opportunities!
Let’s end this with a bit of humor. A quick search online shows how folks have taken the liberty to change out the cigarette on Hurd’s 1947 photograph with other items like a can of Coke, a huge watermelon and a puppy!
Apparently these items do not offend!
If you have a question about children’s books or want a suggestion for your child, feel free to contact me: email@example.com.