literature as an issue over on an Awfully Big Blog Adventure last week when my friend Lucy Coats raised the issue of same sex relationships in YA literature. There is plenty of comment over there and I am not going to revisit the issue here.
Instead I want to raise the issue of "political correctness" as seen on page three of "The Weekend Australian" this weekend. The item had the title "Diet police mug the very hungry caterpillar." It was referring to the way in which a much loved children's books had been turned "politically correct".
The book in question is Eric Carle's wonderful story of "The very hungry caterpillar". When I was teaching I read it over and over again to my intellectually disabled young charges. They loved it. They liked the repetition and the simplicity of the story. I used it to teach about colour and food and all manner of other things. It is a marvellous story.
The young caterpillar's diet in 1969 is anything but healthy. It includes chocolate cake, icecream, cherry pie as well as cheese, pickle, salami, sausage and a lollipop. It really does not matter. He has a stomach ache. He then eats a nice green leaf and feels rather better for it. The moral is there in the story.
But it seems that this is not good enough in 2011. A school in Victoria, and I have no doubt schools elsewhere, have the caterpillar eating a bowl of cereal, a brown bread cheese and tomato sandwich, a glass of milk, a slice of cheese, a bowl of spaghetti, steamed broccoli, a piece of chicken, a piece of fish and a tub of low fat yoghurt. The caterpillar still ends up with a stomach ache but, instead of the nice green leaf, he eats a bowl of vegetable soup in order to "feel better."
He turns into a magnificent butterfly and, in the revised version, goes off to PMP (Perceptual Motor Program) class - or exercise class.
Whoa! That is ridiculous! Oh, I know what the school is trying to do but it misses the whole point of the story. Carle has made the point in his version of the story. He has made it so well that the book has been translated into more than fifty languages and sold over thirty-million copies.
Carle's version of the story is also a whole lot more fun.
This sort of political correctness is nonsense. It spoils the story. It denies children the right to enjoy the nonsense of childhood. They know full well that caterpillars do not eat the diet Carle has provided. The fun is in pretending to believe that they have eaten all those things and that they have the stomach ache they deserve.
This is by no means the only book that has been given a political makeover - or banned for being politically incorrect. There is a local school that banned Roald Dahl because of the Oompa Loompas. Noddy was removed from the library shelves a long time ago and, for a while, it was illegal to sell "golliwogs". (There were also complaints when some did go on display as part of an exhibition.)
I doubt this is doing any good or whether it is having the desired effect. The article in the paper notes that the children at the school in questions had their artwork on display to accompany the story. Apparently it was mostly of lollipops. Good on them.