Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Trouble for Tintin

When I was in China recently, I went to a large bookstore so that I could see what young people in China were reading in their efforts to learn English. The fifth floor of an expansive building was filled with nothing but children's and young adult books. There were the requisite Dr. Seuss and beginning readers, Harry Potter (though outrageously expensive), lots of nonfiction of the Eyewitness variety, and a large section of graphic novels. I was particularly surprised to see a huge selection of Tintin books by the Belgian cartoonist Herge. Most of the titles I saw were not particularly flattering to the cultures they portrayed. The fact that they were being snatched up by the young people in the store was a bit shocking. I can remember thinking something like "Thank God we don't sell these in the U.S."

Oops. How wrong I was. Here is an excerpt from an article released yesterday by Reuters.
The U.S. Borders said in a statement received on Tuesday that it was committed to carrying a wide range of materials and supporting its customers' right to choose what to read and what to buy. But the retailer also said it was committed to acting responsibly and with sensitivity to all communities.

"Therefore, with respect to the specific title 'Tintin in the Congo,' which could be considered offensive by some of our customers, we have decided to place this title in a section of our store intended primarily for adults - the graphic novels section," Borders said.

"We believe adults have the capacity to evaluate this work within historical context and make their own decision whether to read it or not. Other "Tintin" titles will remain in the children's section."
You can read more at Tintin's Troubles in the Congo Spread to U.S..

NPR also highlighted this controversy yesterday. Give a listen to Lynn Neary's story, Store Bans 1930s Kids Book for Racist Illustrations.

Finally, Publishers Weekly wrote about this last week in Uproar Over Racism in Popular 1931 Children's Book Set for U.S. Release.


  1. I guess it's true that this particular title (and I think a few others, actually) are problematic. But I've got to say, Nick has adored the Tintin books he's read. And for the most part they are worth the read, I think: fun adventures, with a real sense of the child's curiosity and pleasure in the new--so don't throw them all out, please!

  2. Hi Libby,
    Funny, the ones I saw in China were all pretty offensive. I haven't seen the series, so I guess I'll need to take a look!

  3. Tricia,

    Do you remember the illustrations of Oompa-Loompas in the original edition of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY?

    By the way, I saw your mention of FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS at Debbie Reese's blog. There's a much better version entitled THE SEVEN CHINESE BROTHERS, which was written by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by Jean and Mou-sien Tseng. Have you read it? I show both versions to the students in my children's literature course.