November 9, 2011

The trouble with Pippi


Looking back on my adolescence, I now realize that my acts of rebellion were probably more admirable than they were provocative — especially from the perspective of my YA librarian mother. No, I didn’t dye my hair black, sneak off with boys, or listen to Slipknot. I read banned books. Julie of the Wolves, Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, Bridge to Terabithia, The Chocolate War, Go Ask Alice, anything by Judy Blume. I eagerly devoured them all. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have ever picked up a Harry Potter book if my school’s library hadn’t banned the series in the seventh grade.

But when it comes to children’s literature and censorship, where do we draw the line? Sexuality, drug use, and witchcraft are one thing… but racism? What are we to make of that?

Earlier this year, there was a controversy surrounding the “N” word in Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Now, the hot topic is Pippi Longstocking.

Dr. Eske Wollrad, a German theologian, expressed her concern about the content of the Swedish children’s series at an anti-discrimination conference in Leipzig last weekend.

“It is not that the figure of Pippi Longstocking is racist, but that all three in the trilogy of books have colonial racist stereotypes,” Dr. Wollrad told the German paper The Local.

But Dr. Wollrad seems to be calling more for a red pen — and perhaps some well-placed footnotes–than for an axe.

“I would certainly not condemn the book completely — on the contrary, there are many very positive aspects to the book […] The question to ask yourself is whether you could read a certain passage out loud to a black child without stopping or stumbling,” she said. “Only then can you say whether it is okay or not.”

Of course we’ve already got parental warnings on movies and music… might disclaimers for books be in the future, too?