• Sweden edition
 

Kids' books become ideological battleground in Sweden

Published: 04 Aug 2008 11:33 GMT+02:00
Updated: 04 Aug 2008 11:33 GMT+02:00

Two new publishing houses for children's books have sparked debate in gender-equal Sweden over their professed aim of instilling the country's open-minded social values in the next generation.

"Our goal is for all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or other such things, to have the freedom to create their own identity and be respected for their personal qualities," said Karin Salmson, the co-founder of the new Vilda publishing house.

But several critics are outraged, saying they are simply pushing propaganda disguised as literature.

Vilda and another small publisher, Olika, both opened their doors last year with the express aim of making children's books that promote liberal values and challenge traditional views on gender, race and sexual orientation.

"Many parents feel forced to change he to she or she to he and other details as they read stories for their children, because so many details in children's books are so very traditional," Salmson said.

Vilda has therefore introduced a so-called "hug label", guaranteeing that its books have been "scrutinized from a democracy, equality and diversity perspective" and contain no details "based on prejudice or traditional gender roles that rein in individual freedom".

The publisher for instance makes sure girls are not always dressed in pink and boys in blue, that dad is not necessarily the one rushing off to work while mom stays home whipping up dinner and that same-sex parents are portrayed as a natural part of life.

Olika's co-founder Marie Tomicic also says her publishing house aims to "break down traditional gender roles and offer children broader role models, allowing them to be all they can be."

Together the two small publishers have so far only released about a dozen titles, including a book about a boy who wears pink sandals, and a story about a girl who likes to make farting sounds using her armpits, who just happens to have two dads.

The publishers' philosophies are largely in line with ruling attitudes in the country, which is widely considered a world leader in gender equality and minority rights.

But critics have challenged their methods.

'We are trying to break a pattern'

"For both Vilda and Olika, their values are the top priority ... and I think that is simply the wrong approach when you want to make good children's books," says Lotta Olsson, a literary critic at Sweden's paper of reference Dagens Nyheter.

If the whole aim of a story is to promote an idea and alter children's behaviour and attitudes, the artistic and literary side of the book tends to suffer, she insists.

"You cannot write a book simply because you want it to be gender equal. You can however write a good book that is gender equal, but as soon as you can see the thought behind the book, I think the artistic side has failed," she tells AFP.

Both Tomicic and Salmson, however, dismiss the criticism as "cultural elitism," pointing out that they have received an overwhelmingly positive response from parents.

"It is perfectly possible to make good literature that takes these issues into consideration," Tomicic says, pointing out that "we have good authors and illustrators and we insist there is a good story. That is absolutely the most important thing."

One of Olika's illustrators, Per Gustavsson, has publicly criticized the publisher's request to change the colour of a girl's T-shirt from its original pink in one book, while questions have been raised about the interest of portraying homosexual parents in another book when the fact is not important to the story line.

"We are trying to break a pattern," Tomicic responds, insisting that it is important to show children that there are many natural alternatives to traditional ways of describing gender roles, including the colours girls and boys wear, and family structures.

Salmson agrees. "Portraying a gay family in a story that is not simply about gay families shows that these families exist too and are just as normal as other types of families."

"I really can't see how that can affect the quality of the story itself," she says, adding however that "I guess there are people who really feel very threatened when you try to open up perceptions on sexuality and gender identity."

Olsson rejects that notion, maintaining that the problem with the new publishing houses is their "prerequisite that they only take in authors with the same perspective. That affects their access to books in a way that just isn't good."

"I don't think it works either," she insists. "Children do as we do, not as we tell them to do. If you look around and see women being treated worse than men, it makes no difference that you've read a children's book in which the mother goes to work and the father stays home with the kids."

AFP's Nina Larson

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Sweden resumes aid to 'anti-gay Uganda'
Hillevi Engström and protesters against Uganda's anti-gay laws. Photos: Maja Suslin/Ben Curtis/TT

Sweden resumes aid to 'anti-gay Uganda'

Sweden has resumed sending development aid funds to Uganda, after suspending payouts back in March due to "anti-gay legislation". READ  

The Local List
Top ten coffee spots in central Stockholm
Fanny feels at home at the Blå Lotus. Photo: Isabela Vrba

Top ten coffee spots in central Stockholm

If you're wondering where to grab your next cappucino, then wonder no more. The Local talked to the locals in Stockholm and found out the best spots in town for the ultimate fika experience. READ  

Swedish neo-Nazis join fight in Ukraine
The Azov task force. Photo: Sergei Chuzavkov/TT

Swedish neo-Nazis join fight in Ukraine

Four Swedes are fighting with the Ukrainian task force Azov - a squad which flies a flag with Nazi symbols and, according to one Swedish soldier, fights for "a white Ukraine". READ  

Swedish elk get one-way ticket to Denmark
The elk in this picture are not the ones that will be sent to Denmark. Photo: The Uppsala Koala

Swedish elk get one-way ticket to Denmark

Up to a dozen elk will be transported from Sweden to Denmark in an effort to help maintain local marshlands. READ  

Sweden worst in EU at getting foreigners jobs
Photo: Henrik Trygg/Imagebank Sweden

Sweden worst in EU at getting foreigners jobs

UPDATED: Swedish citizens are the most likely to be employed in the EU, but Sweden is among the very worst when it comes to getting non-EU citizens into work. READ  

Man arrested for burning partner's face
Photo: Linn Malmén/TT

Man arrested for burning partner's face

Police suspect that a man in western Sweden is responsible for the extreme burns on his partner's face. The man has been arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault - and potentially attempted murder. READ  

In Pictures: Conchita Wurst in Stockholm
Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

In Pictures: Conchita Wurst in Stockholm

Eurovision winner and LGBTQ idol Conchita Wurst is in Stockholm this week for Stockholm Pride - and joined Swedes at Skansen for a colourful summer sing-along. READ  

Stockholm holds colour contest for new metro
Photo: Joel Bagon

Stockholm holds colour contest for new metro

Stockholm's new metro line is not set for preliminary construction until 2016, and will not be completed until 2022 - but Swedes already have the chance to vote for the new line's colour. READ  

Sweden's heat wave officially over
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Sweden's heat wave officially over

The heat wave that swept over Sweden recently has finally passed, meteorologists reported on Wednesday, promising cooler and more autumnal temperatures around the corner. READ  

Ukraine rebels release kidnapped Swede
Rebel tanks on the road to Horlivka in June. Photo: TT

Ukraine rebels release kidnapped Swede

The Swede who was kidnapped by pro-Russian rebels has been released after nearly three weeks of being held hostage - although no one knows where he is now. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Swedish youth suicides hit 25-year high
National
Politician reported for selling 'negro ball'
National
Police turn blind eye to Swedish 'slave trade'
Analysis
The top six ways the US and Sweden differ
Gallery
Stockholm Pride: Allsång på Skansen with Conchita Wurst
Blog updates

27 July

Approaching Stockholm (Around Sweden in a kayak) »

"I woke up in the comfort of my own little cabin on Eva and Rolf’s boat, it was 7:30am and I was feeling a bit groggy after a couple of beers with all the lovely locals the night before. The previous day had really taken its toll on my body and I was very stiff and..." READ »

 

24 July

Sharing our Pride: Celebrating Love & the LGBT Community! (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"It’s mid- July in Stockholm, and with much of the city on vacation, things can seem a little quiet – the streets, the bus, and the grocery store. One thing that has not paused for a summer break, though, is preparation for Stockholm’s Pride Festival, which will take place from July 28 to August 2...." READ »

 
 
 
Skatteverket
Sponsored Article
Introducing... ID cards and permits in Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching, June 26th - 28th. Get inside Stockholm's hottest nightclubs
Gallery
Top ten Swedish taboos
Society
Seven-year-old Swede cycles to Berlin
Politics
'Gaza conflict needs help, not empty rhetoric'
Society
Swedes voted 'most beautiful' in the Nordics
Business & Money
Sweden demands EU clarity on Bitcoin tax
National
Swedish organic sales enjoy 'amazing' growth
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
Society
What's On in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching July 23
National
Swedish cops elect not to shoot 'angry elks'
Business & Money
New alcohol retail rules threaten micro-breweries
Gallery
People-watching Båstad
Business & Money
Sweden falls to third in global innovation index
Society
Swedish ornithologists keep webcam watch
Photo: Andreas Nordström/Image Bank Sweden
Gallery
Top ten Swedish beach hot spots
Tech
Swedish Wiki vet sets new content record
Photo: Fastighetsbyrån
Lifestyle
In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
Photo: Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching July 15-16
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

745
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se