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.
I 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.
BOOKS 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.