Babar, Celeste, Cannibals, and Death

The Censor Mommy Strikes.

I have a beef with Babar. Specifically Jean de Brunhoff’s, “The Story of Babar, The Little Elephant,” and later, “The Travels of Babar.” In the former, this page raised some concerns:

[Insert photo of the elephant king turning green and looking all sick & wrinkly. I had an actual image of this before, but just read something about a blogger getting sued for copyright issues. Copyright paranoia, c’est moi.]

The next lines of text say, “It poisoned him and he became ill, so ill that he died. This was a great calamity.”

When he’s “sick,” the elephant king turns green, and then Babar shows up on the next page, wearing a green jacket, so Z thinks the king comes back to life again. She’s had some questions about it, and it’s been a little difficult for us to decide what to tell her without freaking her out too much. It’s a teaching moment, we recognize that. But how much to teach?

One of her questions was, “If I die, will I be alive again?” (like the elephant king, I think) and we said, yes, she’ll be alive with God. She asked if it hurt, and we said that God would take care of her. Those are both things that we believe, and we kind of glossed over the hurting bit, because she’s already worried enough about every little scrape and fever. And remember, she just turned three.

I think we did the right thing, not going into too much detail, but answering calmly. I just think she’s a little young to be thinking about death, that’s all. Maybe I’m not right about this, but it’s how I feel.

Then we took that Babar book and put it away! It’ll come out later. I don’t know when. Like so many things with this parenting gig, we’re wingin’ it.

Another book on the Censor Shelf is “The Travels of Babar.”  Some “fierce and savage cannibals” tie up Celeste and hope to eat her. They’re depicted as dark-skinned men wearing little grass skirts, and as I have yet to see a positive depiction of dark-skinned people in any of the Babar books, this story will also wait until Z is old enough for us to discuss how people talk about and write about people of other races.

[Insert photo of dark people in grass skirts, holding spears, dancing around the tied-up elephant royalty. See above re: copyright paranoia.]

I loved Babar when I was a little kid, and I still love Babar. Luckily for Z, Husband’s Babar collection is at least ten books strong, so the disappearance of two or three books will by no means give her a Babar-less life.

If you have kids, are there any books you put away to read and discuss when they’re older?