Sunday, November 12, 2006

Burn That Book!

I'm on a committee to review a book that a patron has asked to be removed from our local public library shelves. He found it "shocking" and "inappropriate."

I picked up my copy Saturday afternoon. I asked the children's librarian if I should lock myself in my bedroom before I opened it or cover it in brown paper so my own children couldn't see it. She just flashed a sly grin and said she wasn't going to say anything about it, that I'd have to figure out for myself what was objectionable.

The book is The Baby's Catalogue by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Apparently, when the Ahlberg's child was a baby s/he delighted in looking at catalogues. My kids still do. So they made a book that was very catalogue-like, but with baby-relatable images. There is no real text, only, "mommies" and "meals" and "bath time" or "bed time". Each page has a series of illustrations that pertain to the heading. The illustrations are small (five to ten per page, the book is only about nine inches square) and softly cartoony and pastel.

My copy of the book came through interlibrary loan. There is a sticker on the back that says, "This book is recommended for month 8."

Here is the so-called problem: under the headings "Babies" and "Lunches" there are illustrations of a baby breastfeeding; and under "Bath Time" there is a little boy sitting in a shallow tub with his penis visible.

I can only imagine the person who filed this complaint saying, "This is completely inappropriate! An eight month old has no business knowing ANYTHING about BREASTFEEDING!"

The illustration shows no bare breast, no nipple, no nothing. You see a mom holding a baby in profile, her shirt is open from the top and pulled to one side (the other side completely covered). There really isn't even the outline or shape of a breast, just flesh and the baby's mouth pressed against it. It is really a very sweet picture--the baby is fingering the mom's buttons in in one picture and a ruffle in the other, the way babies do.

As for the tub illustration. Does this man bathe his kids in their swimsuits? It is what it is: a baby boy sitting up in the tub, holding a duckie over his head, a towel hanging up behind him. It's not like it's an illustration of his penis. It's merely there, anatomically correct, where it should be, as part of a happy busy picture.

We will have no problem keeping this book on the shelf where it should be. If there is any dissent whatsoever, I'll just pull out the American Acadamy of Pediatritions recommendations on breastfeeding and the fact that boys have penises and no amount of cramming babies into swimsuits will change that. But, really...I can't imagine anyone really arguing this book should be banned.

Paul and I made a game of going through and pointing out "equally objectionable" illustrations. The weiners in the Shopping section are phalic, not to mention anti-vegetarian. There are two boys holding hands. There's a baby sleeping on it's stomach.

It's all a bit ridiculous. Much ado about nothing.


Anonymous said...

really i was hoping for a bit more scandal...

emdunbar said...

I was really hoping for more scandal as well. I got the complaint form last night that the complainer (I'm sure that's not the technical term, but I'm sticking to it) filled out. He said "I know babies breastfeed and my wife breastfed our children, but I still don't think it's appropriate for children to see." What can one say to that besides, "whatever."

Anonymous said...

According to The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006, the Best American Fake Headline was "U.S. Children Still Traumatized One Year after Seeing a Partially Exposed Breast on TV." So, all I have to say to Mr. Hastings Complainer is this -- take it to The Colbert Report, and leave your issue in the realm of HUMOR.

Carey M., who thinks you should also get the La Leche League on his ass...