Frank Gatti: Parents should read ‘Tintin’ books

Last modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Interest in the “Adventures of Tintin” books that were written over eighty years ago is not a sudden enthusiasm for historical comics but because of the Steven Spielberg film that was in the theaters in 2011 and available since then on DVD.

I have watched the film and find that it is not racially insensitive, that the bad guys are as European as Tintin, that the scenes in a middle-eastern country do not show the people there unfavorably.

Spielberg has captured in his film the original “Tintin” books’ love of exotic places, mystery and adventure without evoking racial or ethnic humor through denigrating imagery and European superiority. Young children are drawn to the books, which were created in the early 1930s, because of the film. Unlike the film, the books are insensitive to the current attitudes about race and our views of colonialism.

The Jones Library librarian and library trustees have refused the request of parents whose children are not of full European ancestry to have the books placed in the young adult (teen) section, because it would seem that this would be bowing to the wishes of a specific group of citizens and hence censorship.

This principle is cited as more important than that such a placement would acknowledge children’s development, that young children cannot readily grasp the differences of social attitudes over eighty years, that Spielberg’s “Adventures of Tintin” is not the same as Herge’s (George Remi, 1907-1983) “Adventures of Tintin.”

Young children understand stories from a moral perspective that reflects their developmental age, good versus bad. When bad is associated with one race or ethnic group and good with European ancestry, early values are being learned. All societies have their rules on what is seen as appropriate experiences for their youth. This is not censorship but common values, shared and subject to change over time.

Attitudes about race and ethnicity, is a societal issue. What is our view of appropriate literature for all of our children? I would recommend that Amherst residents, especially parents of young children, read some of Herge’s “Adventures of Tintin” for themselves and see whether they think this is what they wish for the younger children of Amherst. I would ask those who work as children’s librarians to think more carefully about what is developmentally appropriate.

Frank Gatti is a child psychiatrist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.