Illustrator bans US adaptation of child book

14th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

14 July 2007, Berlin (dpa) - A German illustrator has angrily withdrawn one of her "busy" books for small children from the US market after being told that shoppers might object to nudity in one of the pictures.

14 July 2007

Berlin (dpa) - A German illustrator has angrily withdrawn one of her "busy" books for small children from the US market after being told that shoppers might object to nudity in one of the pictures.

Rotraut Susanne Berner, 58, of Munich draws group scenes crowded with people, animals and objects. Her books encourage pre-schoolers to discuss with parents what they see in the pictures.

The international book trade regularly translates and rearranges children's books to suit different markets, but Berner drew the line when she was asked to paint over the genitals of a small male statue on a plinth in one of her images.

"This is so ridiculous. I thought they were joking at first," said Berner from her Munich studio.

The projecting male organ is a tiny but salient squiggle in the picture: the male statue itself is only 7.5 millimetres high on the page.

"I won't let them censor me," said Berner, who was also asked to paint out depictions of people smoking pipes and cigarettes for the US edition. "I'm protecting the fundamentals of free speech here."

Berner's German publisher, Gerstenberg Verlag in the northern city of Hildesheim, confirmed that its US client, Boyds Mills Press of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, had asked for the changes.

Its chief executive had said he had no personal objection to nudity, but believed moral watchdogs would criticise the book if the depiction was the same as in the German edition, according to Gerstenberg.

Boyds Mills Press did not return calls requesting comment.

Social attitudes in Germany ensured major interest in the story, which surfaced Wednesday on the website of the news weekly Der Spiegel under the headline "Micropenis excites US publisher."

Germans, who are accustomed to nudity on advertising billboards and sex scenes in prime-time television, often voice surprise that Americans and other nationalities frown on nudity or women sun-bathing topless.

Americans living in Germany have said they find some German taboos surprising the other way round, including a reluctance to depict gunfire on TV and public revulsion towards culling wild animals.

The Berner controversy involves the illustrator's four-seasons series, which follow about 80 characters through changing scenes, with one book devoted to each of the seasons.

One of the scenes in the Winter volume depicts people at an art exhibition which includes a framed female nude. A woman peers directly at the male statue.

Gerstenberg was disappointed that the sale fell through. It has sold 250,000 copies of the four-seasons books in Germany and licensed 130,000 copies in Japan, Sweden and other markets.

In all the years since the Brothers Grimm's Fairy Tales, German children's authors have only rarely managed to come up with books that please tastes in the world's biggest-spending book market.

US publishers regularly explain that they need children's books that "relate to" a wide US readership.

The trade in the opposite direction is huge. Germany, like other European countries, is awash with children's books translated from English. Culture discrepancies often feature in negotiations.

Several years ago, one British executive said a book about a bear and a cub, I'm Taking a Bath with Papa by Japan's Shigeo Watanabe, would have parental sexual-abuse overtones to many readers.

Andrea Deyerling, a spokeswoman for Gerstenberg, said, "We are quite sad about it, but we can understand Berner's point of view. We value her as an artist and will abide by her decision."

Berner said some internationally popular German authors had adapted their books to US tastes, such as painting bikini tops over images of girls bathing topless, but she would never do so.

She accused the US publisher of "pandering to fundamentalists" and "taking a purely commercial decision."

"He kept saying that he found it very embarrassing, but that there were people who would inspect the books and might advise bookstores and libraries not to buy them," she said.


Subject: German news

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