Gillian Avery, 17 July 1980
‘The father places his penis in the mother’s vagina.’ Modern prudery shies away, affronted, from this statement in a manual of sex education – not for Dr Bowdler’s reasons, but because the Young Person of today might infer from it that the female role in life is to be passive. Racism and Sexism in Children’s Books, which enshrines this and much other theorising about what should bring a blush to the cheek of the Young Person and, more important, to that of his mentor, is an undistinguished, one might even say dismally puerile, little collection of essays. But as the authors take themselves and their themes very seriously, and the blurb states that the volume has been prepared because of the ‘overwhelming response from readers and teachers’ to an earlier book on these subjects, it is worth looking at the views of the Bowdlers of the 1980s. The book has an English editor, who has apparently worked in English bookshops and a London public library, but most of the contributions are American in origin, coming from a digest first published by the Council for Inter-Racial Books for Children in the USA. I will reveal myself as an out-and-out racist when I say that it is permeated with a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon self-righteousness – Auden’s governess lying awake and giving the universe nought for behaviour.