A German author and her publisher were thrilled when a U.S. publisher inquired about putting out a North American edition of one of her bestselling children’s books… until the U.S. publisher asked the author to airbrush some of her illustrations.
The drawings, of a scene in an art museum, feature cartoonish depictions of a nude painting and statue. Hardly anything to freak out over, but the publisher, Boyds Mills Press, was so afraid of angry parents that they sheepishly asked the author to censor herself.
This didn’t go over so well in Germany. From Spiegel:
American kiddies, obviously, could never be expected to handle such a depiction of the human body. The US publisher, somewhat awkwardly, asked if they could be removed.
The author, not surprisingly, considers the request to be absurd. The statue’s mini-willy, the author points out, is hardly even a half-millimeter long. And the naked woman hanging on the wall? Hardly a realistic depiction of the female anatomy. The US publisher, says Berner, was embarrassed to ask for the changes, but they were even more afraid of how American mommies and daddies might react if junior were exposed to such pornography.
For the author, any kind of self-censorship was completely out of the question. She said she could maybe have lived with putting black bars in front of the problem spots, but “invisible censorship” was out. “If you’re going to censor something, then the reader should be aware of it,” she told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
The book in question is already a bestseller in 13 countries. Now, outcry from Germany has convinced Boyd Mills to go ahead with the book without any censorship.
It’s sad but not surprising that the publisher reacted the way they did. A tiny drawing of a wang in a kid’s book is just the sort of unsubstantial, yet mildly controversial issue that local TV news teams really enjoy. In a country where you can get your 15 minutes of fame from complaining about talking dolls that “swear” if you listen really, really hard, and the use of the word “scrotum” in a Newbery Medal winning children’s book causes apoplexy in librarians, the publisher was probably less concerned about offending your average parent than it was about having to “take tiny penis drawings seriously” on the nightly news. So it goes.