Harry Potter And The Pinkwashing Parents

Tonight I read an article by the great Kelly Wickham about a New York Times piece regarding the pinkwashing of books (namely Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) by a mother who thought the book was too harsh and mature for her five year old son. Instead of simply saying “We’ll wait on that book till you’re a bit older” she changed the story around, softening character descriptions, changing words, and altering the plot to suit her needs so her son wouldn’t be, I don’t know…corrupted? Damaged? by the book. WELL. Kelly disagreed with this little stunt, and so do I. Pull up a chair and let me tell you why.

harry-potterI have always been a voracious reader. I wouldn’t have gotten into writing if I hadn’t been a bookworm, and it has been that way since I was a very small child. My parents have told me that I would memorize board books and “read along” before I could recognize letters, and it’s been off to the races since then. So when I heard of the term “pinkwashing” I was appalled. Appalled! What in the holy hell has happened to our society that we bypass saying no to children and instead change stories around to fit our myopic view on what’s appropriate? Your kid is too young for Harry Potter? Read him something else! Kids have had the opportunity to grow up with Harry, and I think they should have that opportunity in its true form, as the growth and maturation of the characters mirror the changes of childhood so well, in good and in bad.

Lynn Messina made a choice, and she’s going to have to live with the consequences. When I was young, I remember the sweet agony of being so engrossed with a book that when something bad happened to one of my beloved characters I would weep and rage and throw the book across the room (hell, I still do that.) That’s part of reading. The miracle of words on a page that come to life and affect you viscerally, that give you joy, and agony, and excitement and make you think.


Messina is taking that away from her son by pinkwashing the Harry Potter books, and I wish to goddo she wouldn’t, not for her sake but for the sake of her son. I know I’m getting all riled up here, but if my mother had read “Anne of Green Gables” to me and left out the part about Matthew dying because it was too sad? And then I later found out about it? I would be furious. That’s MY book and MY characters, and you changed it? How dare you? There are so many books out there geared for a five year old child, so many you could drown in them, and you choose to black out major plot points and character flaws because they’re too real? What is that child going to do when he’s older? Is she going to hide him away from other forms of entertainment and learning? What about “Where The Red Fern Grows” or “Bridge To Terabithia?” Those books wrecked me as a kid, but you know what? I don’t regret reading them for a second. The first time I read “Mockingjay” there was a part that had me yelling and literally flinging the book across my bedroom as tears welled in my eyes. I was 35 years old when this happened. I picked up the book, blew my nose, and KEPT READING.

Reading, as they say, is fundamental. Pinkwashing is censorship plain and simple, no better than banning books from school libraries. I remember picking up “Tiger Eyes” as a 12 year old and my mom reading the back cover of the book as she was wont to do, and you know what she said? She said “NO. No way are you reading this book, it’s too old for you. You can read it later.” And I simply sulked for a second and picked up the next book on my leaning tower of tomes from the library. Simple as that. SAY NO. Don’t put your kid in a bubble of misguided “protection” that will certainly burst some day and leave him or her with a sense of confusion and betrayal. Do we really want that for our kids? Leaving them on a pink cloud of delusional happiness that will someday let them fall?

Well of course we do. We want kids to be protected from the big bad world, but that’s not reality. Reality is holding their hands as they discover the universe around them, not holding our hands over their eyes. I hope Ms. Messina’s son grows up to be a passionate reader, one who laughs and cries and hurts and hopes along with his beloved characters. I hope that the Great Pinkwashing of Harry doesn’t turn him off to reading, and I hope Ms. Messina thinks about maybe learning how to set limits in a productive way.

JK Rowling once said “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” And when kids are ready, Harry and all his friends will be there in their true form to take children through a grand adventure. That’s the beauty of books. They’re always there to take you home.


Harry Potter And The Pinkwashing Parents — 6 Comments

  1. I love absolutely everything about this post. I am so happy you are writing on a regular basis again. This? This is more than a gift.

  2. OH FOR SHIT’S SAKE. people like this ENFURIATE me. maybe her kid ISN’T ready for HP books. what’s wrong with saying no? i’ve done that with my own kid – and she’s seen 4 of the harry potter movies already! “you know what, kiddo, i think this book is a little long and scary and maybe you should wait a little longer. let’s read ‘captain underpants’ instead.” THAT ISN’T A DIFFICULT NEGOTIATION. she understands that movies aren’t real, but the stuff she reads in books? that’s ABSOLUTELY the “real world,” to her. junie b. jones is her BEST FRIEND, like superfudge was mine for a long time. i tell white lies to my daughter all the time — “i don’t know what happened to finn the fish, baby, when he woke up this morning he was just a different color!” — but changing a story like that would be a terrible betrayal.
    rockle last post: Happy Halloween (A Little Late) (Okay, A LOT Late, Shut Up)

  3. I’m new to this phenomenon. It’s every bit as insane as not monitoring your kids’ media exposure at ALL, like my in-laws, who let my seven year old watch The Walking Dead. (I know…)

    My girly listened with rapt attention to the Harry Potter series until the end of Order of the Phoenix, and I refused to read Half-Blood Prince until she’s a bit older. She’s quite mature and has processed the series very well, but the dark events in HBP are just not cool yet.

    Thanks for the lovely post defending the transporting and transformative experience of reading. This lights a fire under my author ass and makes me want to work on my twisted ass novella.

    Much love, my Banshee goth darling.
    daisybones last post: #NaBloPoMo 50 Things About Me

  4. One thing that I got from Ms. Wickham’s article is she really loves Harry Potter, so much so that her response to Lynn Messina’s article about her unsuccessful attempt to share it with her son was one of pure outrage, calling it censorship and accusing her of demonstrating poor values to her child. I could not help but think that someone who had a less psychotic fanaticism for Harry Potter might have read Messina’s article differently. In fact, in spite of the fact that Messina got through the entire first book before refusing to continue with the series, she ultimately came to the exact conclusions that Wickham berated her about: That Harry Potter books are not appropriate for a 5 year old and she had to set limits. I am sure if Messina could do it over again, she would given her son the Harry Potter books at a later age when he could read them himself, free of the “pinkwashing” that went along with the books that he was read as a toddler. I believe that much of Wickham’s outrage is unfounded, and I hope that those who agree with her have carefully read Lynn Messina’s original article, or will do so. I do not share the belief that “pinkwashing” is a horrible, corrupting influence when parents are reading children’s books to their sons and daughters. Is it heresy to propose that that story time is less about the literature itself than the interaction between parent and child, and that the script can be a bit more flexible? Remember, we are talking about a five year old here. The kid has time to develop his own reading skills and stick close to the printed work as he reads on his own in the future. I imagine that, because of story time with his mother, he will do so. Again, I think people seem to ignore the fact that that the text of Messina’s article is about the realization that the technique that she employed reading to her toddler does not work with more advanced books, and that those books have to wait.

    My concern with this article is the Harry Potter thing. I know that this will make me unpopular, and I will be accused of being a snob, but I have to say this: Enough with the Harry Potter already. Enough with Harry Potter, enough with Hunger Games, enough with The Game of Thrones books, whatever they’re called, enough with the must-read series that are a miniscule fraction of the literature produced in this world. These books may be great, and I might read them if they weren’t so damned ubiquitous (for the record, I did read the first two Harry Potter books before losing interest). My main problem with both articles is that the argument seems to be about “what age is appropriate to introduce my child to Harry Potter?” There are other books, but in this “winner take all” culture there are a few stars, and a myriad on the margins. These book series are so popular that people of all ages read them, and I’m not sure that that is a good thing. When I see a grown person reading a Twilight book or a Hunger Games book on the subway, fairly or not, I find it a little strange. At what age does it stop being appropriate to read them? I’m tired of everything having to be a series. I’m tired of every successful series having to be made into a movie or TV show. When one looks at the lists of the greatest books ever written (and I know that these lists are all subjective bullshit) one does not see a lot of sequels. I find it disconcerting to find people who call themselves “bookworms” who read the same shit everyone else does and, being that it is, of course, a series, they linger in one world instead of exploring others. If we all were a bit more diverse with our reading choices, maybe there wouldn’t be a heated debate about what age is appropriate to introduce our kids to Harry Potter.
    Otherweis last post: Kiss them Goodbye

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