Wednesday, October 01, 2008

That dog's got quite a habit.

A couple of month's ago I was doing my version of "research" for the book of the month, the topic being the great conflict between hat-wearing and cigarette-smoking. One thing I noticed which I didn't make use of was the presence of smoking in children's books. My favorite example is this one from Richard Scarry's "Great Big Air Book", published in 1971. In my daughter's library I can also find Curious George smoking a pipe, and numerous instances of people smoking cigars and pipes in various Dr. Seuss books. I'm not sure when the exact cut-off date is, but I don't find any smokers in any of Rachel's contemporary books, which probably doesn't surprise anyone. They only show up in those books that are from my childhood or earlier.

Now, of course, there shouldn't be books out there for kids that encourage them to smoke. And I understand why publishers and educators have a list of "taboo" subjects for children's books. But the avoidance of these taboos can sometimes create a world in the books that is just too sweet and light and too far removed from what my daughters see when they're walking down the street with me. Now I wouldn't tolerate racist imagery in any of her books, and I have very little patience for all of the princesses and other helpless females that tend to appear in Disney offerings. But for some reason the smokers in these old books seem like a breath of fresh air, so to speak. Knowing how difficult it would be to publish them these days, finding them in the older books just amuses me.

Admittedly, this image is from a story on air pollution. Dogs using the beach as an ashtray don't appear in other contexts in Richard Scarry books. But the fact that Father Cat is allowed to smoke two big cigars over the course of the story, and the only repercussion is that his white suit gets dirty, is somehow oddly refreshing to me. You just couldn't get that published now.

1 comment:

Becky said...

I am so glad that society now feels that these kinds of books are no longer acceptable. I prefer reading books that have morals and meaning. Instead of reading about a smoking dog, tonight I read my kids a book about a real dog who is battling a disability. "Frankie, the Walk 'N Roll Dog," by Barbara Techel. I Prefer books that teach my kids to have compassion for those with disabilities- instead of teaching them that smoking is cool.