February 14, 2014
Everybody Get Naked, or don’t: Right Wing French Politicians attack immoral children’s books
by Zeljka Marosevic
In a country where the banning of books is rare and mostly unheard of, France has recently experienced a spate of attacks by its politicians on the most liberal of French children’s books. Right-wing and even mainstream politicians have begun calling for the censorship of certain books in a trend that seems to reflect that “the domestic political system in France is under strain”, as Olivia Snaije noted for Publishing Perspectives.
In the most public example, the leader of the UMP, France’s main opposition party (which was previously led by President Nicolas Sarkozy), Jean-François Copé, appeared on French TV holding a copy of Tous à Poil (Everybody Gets Naked). Surely one of the sweetest ideas for a children’s book, Tous à Poil is a story in which everyone, the baby, the babysitter, the neighbour, the teacher and even the CEO get naked. The book’s authors, Claire Franek and Marc Daniau, explained they had written it in in order to show:
“Real bodies in natural situations from a child’s everyday life to counter the numerous images of bodies, often undressed, altered by Photoshop or plastic surgery, that are shown in ads or on the covers of magazines.”
It’s worth watching the TV appearance just to see how Jean-François Copé reads the book, his distaste growing as he turns to the page where the teacher is naked. Copé said the book made his blood boil, and claimed that the book had been “recommended to teachers by the government for use in primary schools and asked how teachers could be expected to be figures of authority if they were naked in the book.”
Le Monde later pointed out that the book hadn’t been on any such list, and that the book was award-winning; the authors pointed out that the book had been written three years ago, and in doing so refuted Copé’s assertion that the book was an example of the current government’s ideology.
But let’s pause a second. People in France are getting upset about book about nudity. In France.
What is more worrying for being more manipulative and sly, is the reports from Livres Hebdo that an extreme far right-wing collective have been targeting public libraries and making lists of books they have branded immoral, in particular children’s books, which they are calling to be removed from libraries. This includes the award for cutest title ever, Tango à deux papas et pourquoi pas? (Two dads tangoing and why not?) and the amazingly named La princesse qui n’aimait pas les princes (The princess who didn’t like princes).
Luckily, everyone’s favourite Culture Minster Aurélie Filippetti has condemned the extremists, issuing a statement that “reading is one of the best tools to combat fanaticism.” and sticking up for the libraries under pressure to remove the books. The Association of Libraries in France also stated its “profound disagreement with these partisan and extremist positions.”
It’s clear France’s Socialist government has many critics in the opposition—and many critics among its supporters—who have become more aggressive to show up the current government, yet these calls for censorship are worrying for the basic freedoms they seek to challenge. But the French people will not be moved. Not only have sales of Tous à Poil gone through the roof since Copé’s TV appearance, but Le Monde is inviting illustrators to post their own drawings under the theme Tous à Poil, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.