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Tales from the Crypt or Tintin: What really is Not Suitable for Children?

15 July 2016

A Cardiff University academic explores stories for children that have sent adults into a spin in a new BBC Radio 3 feature.

Tales of teenage sex, suicide and gay penguins are just some of the kinds of stories written for children and young adults that can get grown-ups worked up today.

Not Suitable for Children explores the fault lines of fiction for the young and asks if there can be any limits and if so, who gets to be the arbiter. The programme is written and presented by Cardiff University lecturer in English Literature, Dr Sophie Coulombeau.

The award-winning author begins by examining the history of the subject, revealing how culture wars have been fought over different kinds of books around the world.

“The programme starts off by thinking about a revised idea of childhood innocence that took off in eighteenth-century Europe, with the pedagogical ideas of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau” Sophie says. “And then asks how that might have brought about cultures of bowdlerisation over the Victorian period – teetotal Cinderellas, cleaned-up Shakespeares, and so on. We move on to look at various kinds of moral panic over unrestricted ‘trash’ – penny dreadfuls in Britain, and Comstockian censorship in the USA.

She adds: “In the twentieth century, we delve into how children’s literature became the hottest of potatoes in Soviet Russia, and the claims in mid-twentieth-century America that comic books caused juvenile delinquency.”

Bringing the topic up-to-date, BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker Dr Coulombeau delves into more contemporary puzzles.  What has been the legacy of the New Christian Right’s campaign in the 1980s to purge library shelves of Judy Blume’s books, which influentially addressed teenage sexuality? And what does one do with problematic classics from the past like Huckleberry Finn, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Hergé’s Tintin in the Congo?

As the programme reveals, censorship in the interests of children’s consumption remains a topical, as well as a historical, issue.

Not Suitable for Children is the latest in BBC Radio 3’s Sunday Feature series (broadcast Sunday 17 July).

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