Thursday, October 07, 2010


You know the term bowdlerizing, right?  After Thomas Bowdler who carefully excised all the questionable bits in Shakespeare, often used disparagingly.  I'm having second thoughts about the disparaging part.  It's all because of Tom Sawyer.  Since we're studying the Mississippi River, we have been reading Tom Sawyer at lunch time.  On the whole, everyone is enjoying it.  I knew going into reading it that there would be some issues with a bit of language and attitudes.  I was up for this since I see it as a part of learning about history.  We have to be willing to tackle the hard parts as well as the easy parts.  But I was unprepared for having to actually deal with the racial epithet that no one says and just abbreviates by its initial letter.  So I took a deep breath and dove in with incredibly strong warnings that this word was to never, ever be used.  I did that once and said the word aloud, choking on it even as I said it.  But the word comes more than once in the book.  I suppose if I had really thought about it, Tom Sawyer doesn't end up on banned books lists just for one instance of a controversial word.  What did I end up doing?  Bowdlerizing.  And I'm OK with that.

So what have you done with controversial words or ideas when you come to it (often unexpectedly) when reading out loud?


Anonymous said...

There are times when I have read ahead with my eyes and just skip over unwanted language or topics. We were just reading a book that had the child characters talking about their horoscopes. I just skipped that part.
We did listen, as a family, last year to all 22 hours of Uncle Tom's Cabin. There were some difficult parts, but it gave us neat opportunities to talk about the sinfulness of man's hearts. There were also beautiful parts expressing God's love and forgiveness. So, yes, I have been there and done that with books we have enjoyed aloud.
Kim Crawford

LawMommy said...

I have no idea what I would do in that situation.

I remember my mother being very frustrated when she found me reading The Bobbsey Twins at her grandmother's house one afternoon when I was young. (I cannot remember if the Bobbsey Twins used the "N" word, but I'm thinking it was either the "N" word or another derogatory term.)

That word is just so very, very ugly...(and I do, on occasion, use some really ugly words) - just shocking in its hatefulness...I probably would Bowdlerize as well.

I do remember loving Tom Sawyer as a girl, it was one of my favorites (and I'm going to have to ask my mom why she was so much more upset by the Bobbsey Twins than Tom Sawyer...maybe she just has a lot more respect for Samuel Clemens?)

Lucy said...

There were books I read as a kid, and never gave much thought to the content that now, as a parent, I shudder. So sometimes I just stop and remind myself that Bambi didn't turn me into an animal rights activist, and I really do my kids a disservice when I presume they are more fragile than I was.

That said, I still initiate discussion about texts that are counter to the messages I would like the kids to learn.

Anonymous said...

I skip over the word. I remember not reading swear words out loud in H.S. English class - the teacher never said anything.

When my child's friend says what they think is an ok phrase to say but I disagree, I ask them to please not say that in my home. They are fine with that. I know that isn't what you asked, but my kids see me discussing language.

I also don't accept a sounds like phrase in my house either by my kids. I explain that it sounds close to something else and we don't say God's name in an off hand way. I talk about the Holiness of the name.


LawMommy said...

Well, in case you were on the edge of your seat wondering why my mother had such a beef with the Bobbsey Twins...apparently the books were re-written in the 60s to address the way the family servants were portrayed. The book I was reading at great-grandma's was an original book from the early 1900s, with an "unkind" (mom's word) portrayal of Sam and reports I was allowed to read (and she insists that I, in fact, did read) the books as republished in the of nothing, at least you should know you prompted an interesting conversation with my mother. :-)

thecurryseven said...

Law Mommy,

That's really interesting. I guess I didn't realize the Bobbsey Twins books were so old. We had a couple that were my mother's, but they were on the same shelf and the same vintage as her Nancy Drews, so I assumed they were contemporary with each other. (Not that as a 10 year old I actually thought to myself, "Oh, those books must be contemporary with each other.") The Bobbsey Twins were a series I never really read, which if funny to me since it seems as though you and I had exactly the same reading childhood. :-)


sandwichinwi said...

Read the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew in some original (or near original) editions and remember reading those parts, but understanding vaguely that a)it was the attitude of a different time and b) it was not ok now.

And I have edited on the fly MORE than once. Sometimes i just seamlessly skip it or change it, sometimes i stutter over it and sometimes I DO include it and we have the discussion. And sometimes, as in the highly repetitive phrase, "..millions of years ago..." I just exagerate it and we all roll our eyes.


Lucy said...

The following is slightly off this specific topic, but perhaps of general interest to the discussion. I have been reading John Gattos' "An Underground History of American Public Education" and just came upon these paragraphs in chapter 6. The whole text can be read here

Even though I haven't finished it yet, I heartily recommend the entire text.

John Taylor Gatto writes:

To see how goals of utopian procedure are realized, consider further the sudden change that fell upon the children’s book industry between 1890 and 1920. Without explanations or warning, timeless subjects disappeared from the texts, to be replaced by what is best regarded as a political agenda. The suddenness of this change was signaled by many other indications of powerful social forces at work: the phenomenal overnight growth of "research" hospitals where professional hospitality replaced home-style sick care, was one of these, the equally phenomenal sudden enforcement of compulsory schooling another.

Through children’s books, older generations announce their values, declare their aspirations, and make bids to socialize the young. Any sudden change in the content of such books must necessarily reflect changes in publisher consciousness, not in the general class of book-buyer whose market preferences evolve slowly. What is prized as human achievement can usually be measured by examining children’s texts; what is valued in human relationships can be, too.

In the thirty-year period from 1890 to 1920, the children’s book industry became a creator, not a reflector, of values. In any freely competitive situation this could hardly have happened because the newly aggressive texts would have risked missing the market. The only way such a gamble could be safe was for total change to occur simultaneously among publishers. The insularity and collegiality of children’s book publishing allowed it this luxury.

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