Monthly Archives: February 2023

Are Purists Protesting too Much over Revisions to Roald Dahl’s Children’s Books?

News of the revisions being made to Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books shook me down to my writer’s bones. As a kiddie lit junkie, I adore Dahl’s books. I wondered how anyone could mess with the creative genius of the man who authored Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Witches, and Matilda, to name just a few of the late British author’s inspired works.
According to CNN, the decision to revise Dahls books was made by the author’s estate, the Roald Dahl Story Company, and Puffin, the publisher, in partnership with Inclusive Minds, “which describes itself as ‘a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature, and are committed to changing the face of children’s books.'”
What kinds of changes were made? “Language relating to gender, race, weight, mental health and violence had been cut or rewritten. This included removing words such as ‘fat’ and ‘ugly,’ as well as descriptions using the colors black and white.”
I understand taking certain books out of circulation. Little Black Sambo, by Scottish author Helen Bannerman, for example. In 1932, Poet Langston Hughes criticized Little Black Sambo as “a typical ‘pickaninny’ storybook which was harmful to black children.” (Wikipedia) And more recently, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, which was recalled from circulation almost immediately upon publication. (Critics argued, why would Washington’s Black personal chef and his little girl, both slaves, take joy in making the president’s birthday cake?) Upon hearing this book was being recalled, I ordered two copies on Amazon – which were never delivered. I actually liked this book very much. But I get it: Washington owned slaves.
In my opinion, there are so many books that should remain forever unaltered. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte’s Web, and books by one of my favorite children’s authors: Tomie dePaola. Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs is about a young boy facing the death of his great-grandmother, and filled with compassion. Not to mention Strega Nona, which heaven forbid may elicit accusations of “witchcraft.”
Last night I texted my teacher-daughter about the Roald Dahl book revisions. What she texted back made me think twice.  Maybe I was being too much of a purist: previously she had not been able to read Dahl’s books to her class. Whether by school decree or other, I don’t know. She teaches abroad. Apparently, some of the wording was offensive. Now, she says, that will change. So maybe the “good “-  more children in the future knowing Dahl’s work –  will eventually outweigh the voices of critics decrying censorship, including people like me, who think kids deserve good literature any way they can get it. FFG