Books, childhood

Kids and Books and Scary Stuff

I’m waiting on the coffee, which is still making cheerful gurgling noises (I really need to run vinegar through the pot and clean out some of the build-up, but probably not today). I’m pondering the ineffable effs of the Universe, like ‘why Monday’ and ‘why so early’ but also ‘why have I got so many tabs open.’

So this isn’t a real post. It’s a post about other posts. A fence, I suppose, of words strung together between those posts.

There are few causes I’m willing to donate to, these days. A nasty suspicious mind toward anyone begging for money, and for good reasons. But people who beg for books? That, they may get. I’m not real thrilled with a couple of themes in this post, but hey – books for kids? That hits me in the sweet spot and I’ll send copies of the YA duology as soon as I can get to the post office.

So here’s what I’m asking. Will you donate a book? A real book. Something literary or fun—something that speaks to your truth, their truths. Something that teaches them something about the world. Makes them feel less alone?

I’m not asking for money. I’m asking for you to send a new book or film or cd to us to help us build a library we can be proud of. Just one book.

Speaking of books for kids, my friend Amanda pointed out something interesting. There’s a series of books she really enjoyed reading, and she loved the illustrations. Recently, she ran across what she thought were the same books… but the illustrations had been sanitized. She was horrified, and told me that even though they don’t yet have children, she might buy copies of the originals now, while she can still find them, and put them aside for later. scary stories

Even though I’d never seen these books myself, I was intrigued, and went in search of an explanation… and a look at the controversial illustration. It turns out that Harper Collins, on the 30th anniversary release of the books, had another artist re-do all the illustrations with work that was, frankly, much less artistic as well as being less creepy. I can see why Amanda was appalled at the results.

From Adventures in Poor Taste, there’s a lovely comparative article which will show you side-by-side the original Stephen Gemmell work and the new ‘child-friendly’ illustrations.

This comparison illustrates one of the major differences between Gammell’s approach and Helquist’s. Gammell is more about conveying the notion of dread rather than capturing the minute details of the scene and the setting. Here in “The Walk”, there’s a fog-shrouded forest and two dark figures becoming separated in the mist; or perhaps they’re approaching you? You don’t know WHAT they are and, in a way, you can just look at this drawing without reading the accompanying story and come up with your own tale. It’s food for the eeriest part of your imagination.

Wonderful Sausage by Stephen Gammell

Intrigued by this book changing into something milder and more milquetoast than my friend’s memories of it, I went looking. It seems that rather than writing new books, publishers are happy to warp childhood memories into something that fits more into the worldview they want their readers to have. Some of it is fairly innocent-looking, like the Richard Scarry book upgrades to reflect “keeping up with the times’ of men cooking and cowboys not being a popular job and heaven forbid we publicly call someone pretty or beautiful.

It’s not hard, once you start looking, to find lists of books that are now considered ‘bad’ because they wouldn’t teach children the carefully cleaned-up version of history the current gatekeepers want to preserve. But the first comment after this article sums it up for me:

I am (a) negro and (b) West Indian so I understand the issues with these books. However- I do not support censoring or revising or rewriting these books. They form an important part of a society’s past culture and teach the younger generation the views and biases of past generations. They should be left untouched and unchanged. It’s all about how people decide to use these books. The removal of these books is more offensive to me personally. Let our kids know what the past was like. Perhaps they’ll appreciate how far we’ve all come(all races in terms of tolerance and acceptance of each other).

Altering history through the destruction of the records of the past seems to me a very bad idea. As a parent, you get to decide which books you read to your children. You know – or should – if your child can handle scary pictures. You get to delve into the past treatment of humans as ‘different’ from one another and show that this is a bad idea. You can decide whether you want to choose classics, or books that fit your modern sensibilities. But destroying the originals just to make them suit your prejudices and mores? Now, that’s a scary bedtime story.