When I read Babar the Elephant to my little daughter, I always skipped the page that shows his mother killed by a hunter. We left the reason for his orphaned state unexplained.
One day, she turned the page herself, saw the picture of the dying mother and was somewhat upset.
Of course, I realized that Babar celebrates French imperialism, but let that go.
On Slate, YiLing Chen-Josephson defends “parents editing objectionable material out of children’s books while reading aloud.”
Maurice Sendak’s Pierre was a favorite of her own childhood. She loved the illustrations, but not the “cautionary” story.
There was once a boy named Pierre
Who only would say “I don’t care!”
One day his mother said
When Pierre climbed out of bed
“Good morning, darling boy, you are my only joy”
Pierre said, “I don’t care!”
“What would you like to eat?”
“I don’t care!”
“Some lovely cream of wheat?”
“I don’t care!”
She was reluctant to introduce her son to “ennui, to disaffection, to insubordination” — even if the alternative was to “defang this book of its glorious mischief.” In her home, Pierre only says “I care!”
Of course, the book made no sense that way. Mom asks: “What would you like to eat?” Pierre responds: “I care!”
It also spoiled Sendak’s narrative arc, which shows Pierre eventually learning to care.
Fellow parents tell Josephson they flip past “outrageously racist illustrations” in childhood favorites.
(See Surprise! It’s Racist! for a review of all the politically incorrect things in classic children’s books: African cannibals, slant-eyed Chinese coolies, etc.
Other parents add make half the trucks female in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site or say “firefighter” instead of “fireman.”
And sometimes a parent has to go a little farther, making an executive decision that the creatures of the forest loved Snow White not because she was “beautiful and gentle” but because “she worked hard and tried new things.”
One mother was “horrified” to realize that Eloise is a brat rather than a good role model for her daughter, writes Josephson.
I have to say: The fact that Eloise is a spoiled brat is the point of the whole story.
And Pierre is about a kid who doesn’t care.
For some books, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.