Thursday, May 31, 2012

Words I never thought I would say

Words I never thought I would say: I'm banishing a book from our house.

And no, it's not a novel "by" Snooki (give me some credit, that never made it into the house), or the wildly popular 50 Shades of Insufferable Vapid Girl Lets Hot Rich Guy Beat Her for Sexual Jollies.

Nope, the book I've banned features a disarming cover, aimed at preschoolers.

The Grape loves books and we spend lots of time reading. One of our favorites in his regular rotation is Ian Falconer's lovely Olivia, an award-winning tale of the ordinary day adventures of a toddler piglet.

Let me be clear: I love Olivia. The original one.

The Grape is far from the precocious porcine's only fan. Olivia proved so popular with the pre-school set that advertisers saw a merchandising opportunity. An Olivia cartoon show was born, predictably followed by a series of toys, books and other junk featuring Olivia's likeness.  All standard stuff.

The other day we were browsing in a bookstore when the Grape's eyes honed in on a display of Olivia books. These weren't by Falconer, who evidently sold the rights to his characters to Nickelodeon, but they featured Olivia and her familiar family, and the Grape wanted the one about Olivia going to a friend's house to dinner.

(I'll try to remember to insert the exact title later. It's in the Grape's room, the Grape is finally, after a lengthy stand-off, napping, and you could not pay me to go in there right now.)

I flipped through the first pages: Olivia and her friends comparing lunches at school. We bought the book. Here's the plot: Over lunch, Olivia's friend Francine invites Olivia to her house for dinner. Olivia is excited to attend a dinner party. Francine's parents are foodies. They serve Brussels sprouts. The book goes on for several pages about how much Olivia dislikes Brussels sprouts (which, by the way, she KNEW she despised BEFORE ever trying them), and how awful it was for Francine's parents to serve them. Francine even apologizes to Olivia, because her mom cooked vegetables.

Who writes this stuff?

Obviously writers underwritten by soft drink and sugared cereal manufacturers.

You know, the ones who add corn syrup to everything, and who package their wares in colorful, eye-catching cardboard boxes that make even the most jaded tot's eyes boggle.

Before you accuse me of going all Sancti-Mommy on you, let me say that I understand that the Grape would rather eat chocolate than spinach (for example). He eats plenty of desserts; he's not on some austere deprivation diet.

But there's a reason two-year-olds aren't allowed to plan their own menus.

I happen to love vegetables, and the Grape seems to enjoy them well enough. In a country where over a third of the citizenry qualifies as clinically obese, shouldn't we try to encourage produce consumption by kids?

When we got to the Brussels sprouts brouhaha, I could see the tiny wheels turning in his mind: Why are they gross? I should make a mental note to hate them.

I'm a writer, and I despise censorship. I make a point to buy banned and challenged books, and I don't think there's any subject that should be completely taboo.

But does my quiet removal of this title from our rotation really constitute a suppression of art?

Ian Falconer neither wrote nor illustrated the book. A team of Nickelodeon employees (or freelancers on contract with the channel) churn these volumes out, to complement their TV shows. Arguably the book in question is, in and of itself, an advertisement for the cable channel (which we don't watch).

So the book will disappear from the Grape's collection. I believe in free speech, but that doesn't mean I  need to pay someone to preach lousy, finicky eating habits to my kid.


  1. I haven't read that one, but I have seen the episode of Olivia it was based on. There is a good message in there in regards to Olivia discovering that she should appreciate what she has at home rather than envying other people's lifestyles (from memory at the beginning she thinks it must be great to live in such a refined house and eat gourmet food, but in the end she appreciates the homeliness and relaxed atmosphere of dinner at her own house). In terms of food pickiness, it's not a great topic for preschoolers. In watching the Olivia TV series it seems to be more appropriate for children who are a little bit older (the 7-9 age group). I don't blame you for making that particular book disappear. Preschoolers are notoriously picky eaters already without being given further reason to shun unfamiliar foods.

  2. My kids are, thankfully, past that stage... I would also have been quietly removing that title from our shelves. I don't want someone else telling my kids to hate brussel sprouts - especially when they love them!

  3. My nieces left a Dora book at our house, which was basically a written version of a Dora episode -- in 32 pages. It really didn't make much sense, and the writing was terrible. Rather than banish it (because it was from the cousins), I hid it. It reappears occasionally.

  4. Banishing drivel isn't censorship. Some books we pick up are so boring that they are never read again or end up in the recycle bin. It's Darwinism for books.