Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Censorship vs. Sensitive Children: Whaling Boat Removed from "A Tale of Tails"

The Merrigold Press version of A Tale of Tails has the harpoon boat seen on the right; the 2008 Golden Treasures board book edition has replaced the whaling imagery with some PhotoShopped waves.

As a general rule, censorship is bad. Still, I'm a little tiny bit grateful that editors selectively revise some children's books.

Not two days ago, we were reading the vintage Giant Golden Book Wheels, Sails & Wings when my sharp-eyed two-year-old son found page 31. (I'd noticed it, but I hadn't really noticed it, you know?) What's on page 31? Oh, that's the description of how, circa the 1950s, whalers have really upped their game by using automated harpoon guns and more violence--the whales die faster!--and gee willikers, these days they can remove the whale oil right there on the ship, whoo-hoo! My kid wasn't buying any of my desperate lies and apologies and misdirection, and he was absolutely wounded by what he was seeing. "Whale...hurt?" I'll probably never forget the shocked and upset look on his face.

Anyway, today, I was cleaning up a new old copy of A Tale of Tails that I found at the thrift shop (so that I can send our copy to one of Jackson's friends who just discovered her lack of a tail), and I realized that this older copy had a different whale page than our board book. In the older version, it becomes clear that the whale's shit-eating grin is because he's Moby Dick's cousin, mofos, and he thinks your puny harpoon boat is hilarious. In the board book, there's no harpoon boat, just a very cracked-out smirky whale.

Suffice it to say, I'm going to keep the old version in our collection, and some day we might have to discuss whaling again, and that's going to suck. Even though I'm going to use the unedited version of A Tale of Tails in our house, I would do a lot to be able to go back and remove page 31 from our copy of Wheels, Sails and Wings, so I hope that the edits to the newer versions of A Tale of Tails save some other mama from having to explain human cruelty to a two-year-old.

P.S. As an ameliorative measure, I'll probably turn to Ann McGovern's Little Whale from the 1970s, and try to explain to the kid that the international ban on whaling is one of the ways that we adults have tried to leave a better world for our kids. Sigh.


  1. Ha! We censor a bunch of books. We censor the mentions of spanking in Bedtime For Frances (it's "yelling" instead, because while we can manage not to hit our kid, we still yell, so that seems realistic). We also censor the poignant ending of Mike Mulligan And His Steam-Shovel. We just end on victory -- they dig the hole, and everybody's happy. I'm torn about this, because I certainly recognize that I'm actually gutting the book and robbing it of its power. But... I do it anyway.

  2. Totally. We did Beatrix Potter for a little while and then I realized half the stories feature violent bunny child abuse and I was like forget it, man.

  3. That's really funny! We also sensor Bedtime for Francis too. There is also a really funny book called Stan the Garbage Man, where the first half of the book promotes recycling and the second half of the book advocates just taking everything to the dump.