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Reading the waffle iron

hardlyboys1I see that Bad Little Children’s Books has been sent to bed without supper. No loss, even if I don’t share the outrage. There are some memes that should just stay memes, and children’s-book-cover parodies have been racing around since even before Buzzfeed was a thing. The problem with this collection in particular is there is almost zero wit; unlike my favorite example (from the internet), at left, which marries a real book cover with a suggestive but plausible new title, this collection just photoshops together various bits from various retro-looking images and slaps on a crude title. I mean, I guess, there probably is an old book cover with a dog dancing in front of a doghouse, but to call it “Fido Finds a Dildo,” place a fake penis in the dog’s mouth, and stick a little label saying “PenisguinHouse” in the corner is just juvenile in all the ways you don’t want. If you want people to laugh, don’t show your work.

It is emblematic of our era that the objections have centered on two images: one of a burka-clad little girl carrying an apparent bomb, and another of a group of stereotyped Indians giving a child a smallpox-infected blanket. Certainly these two are working overtime to be offensive, and they succeed. But it’s worth thinking about why we get upset about these, and, not say, “The Blind Child’s Picture Dictionary” or “My First Little Boob Job” or “Parkinson’s: How to Know if Your Bobblehead Doll Has the Disease.” There are a lot of faux-covers referencing pedophilia, too. Do we not feel equal outrage at jokes about disability or child abuse as we do at jokes that rely on social identities? There are also jokes (one each) about Jews and Asians; none about African Americans or Hispanics. So not an equal-opportunity offender, this book. it looks like Abrams gambled on what it could get away with and lost.

Anyone else remember Blanche Knott’s Truly Tasteless Jokes (1982)? The present book is mild compared to that one, which inspired outrage but also countless sequels and imitators. I guess that won’t happen here.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Nicely summarized, Roger.

    FWIW, I have seen comments about the pedophilia, child abuse, and disability covers, just not quite as much or as loudly, which, given our current political situation and the real abuse that our Muslim and Native American friends have been experiencing since the election (as well as others, but those in particular for this argument’s sake), makes sense to me.

  2. The pedophile image I saw was the worst for me personally, and I wish I hadn’t seen it. I can’t seem to purge it from my memory yet.

  3. I do remember Blanche Knott. I found, read and memorized Truly Tasteless Jokes, Volume 2 when I was around ten years old–not because I wanted to have a repertoire of dirty jokes but because I was genuinely perplexed by so many of them. The joke that stood out most to me was the one about the ant who removed a thorn from a she-elephant’s foot in exchange for letting him have his way with her.

    re: BLCB, I agree it’s unmemorable. I’m really only offended that anyone would consider it satire or even witty.

  4. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Jerrold, is that the one where the elephant says “Ouch!”?

  5. I did a blog post for my site on the smallpox one but on Twitter, I mostly noted the others. Those about children and sexual abuse were especially troubling.

  6. Also discussed all of the above, and saw many others doing the same.

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