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Archive for Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cigarette removal sparks criticism

Author was originally shown on children’s book smoking

November 19, 2005

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— A recent change in the photo of a well-known children's book illustrator to remove a cigarette from his hand has drawn criticism from a Kansas City bookstore.

Pete Cowdin, owner of Reading Reptile, said he noticed the change about six weeks ago while selling a copy of "Goodnight Moon," a popular classic written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd that was first published in 1947.

The photograph of Hurd published in the book for years showed him with a cigarette in his right hand, but in new copies brought out recently by HarperCollins Publishers the cigarette has been digitally removed.

Cowdin, surprised by the change, reacted by setting up a Web site, www.goodnightreality.com, to protest what he describes as censorship.

"This is one of the best-selling kids' books of all time," he said. "There are certain responsibilities and obligations on the part of the publisher as a steward - not just a marketer - to what I consider an archival document. To go in and do something like that is the pinnacle of arrogance."

The company defends the altered photo. Kate Morgan Jackson, editor-in-chief for HarperCollins Children's Books, said the company contends the issue is about smoking.

"One of our responsibilities is to make sure we are publishing (the book) the right way throughout the ages and making it healthy for every generation," she said.

Cowdin includes both versions of the photo on his Web site and asks readers to vote "smoke" or "no smoke." He said there have been thousands of hits and that one hacker managed to register thousands of "no smoke" votes.

On Thursday, Cowdin upgraded security so that each voter can cast only one ballot. By Thursday night, there were more than 1,300 votes, with 73.5 percent in favor of restoring the original photo.

While saying "everybody agrees" that smoking is bad, Cowdin said changing the photo suggests that Hurd is "attendant to some moral lapse," although the photo was taken decades ago when attitudes about smoking were different.

Jackson said she understood why Cowdin feels the way he does but added: "I think he's taken a very strident position on it."

Jackson said she respected Cowdin's passion for the book. She also said he has a fantastic store and does "a lot for the children's literature community."

Earlier this year, Cowdin's store was one of two winners of the annual Pannell Award for Excellence in Children's Bookselling presented by the Women's National Book Assn.

Jackson sent Cowdin an e-mail last week saying the company appreciated his "sensitivity toward adjusting historical photographs" and that for the next printing of the book it will use another photo of Hurd that does not show him with a cigarette.

Cowdin responded that he would listen if Jackson could introduce him to one person who can trace their smoking habit back to Hurd, noting that his mother died of lung cancer two years ago.

"For you to falsely characterize this issue in moral terms as a 'smoking' issue, rather than a censorship issue, is absolutely offensive to me," Cowdin wrote.

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