• 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)

Today's headlines
National
Northern Swedes wake up to September snow

Northern Swedes wake up to September snow

Summer has come to a definite end in Kiruna as residents of the northern town were greeted with a blanket of snow on Sunday morning. READ  

Elections 2014
Ex-Prime Minister: Sweden is falling apart
Former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson. Photo: Leo Sellén/TT

Ex-Prime Minister: Sweden is falling apart

Former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson has said that the election success of the Sweden Democrats is a "slap" in the face for the Stockholm establishment. READ  

National
Trio prosecuted for hate attack against Somalis
Somali nationals taking part in a demonstration against deportations in Stockholm. File photo:Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/ TT

Trio prosecuted for hate attack against Somalis

Three young men in southern Sweden suspected of attacking Somali refugees with stones and screaming "sieg heil" have been indicted on charges of racial agitation. READ  

National
Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Sweden is set to buck the European trend of rising air prices with fares expected to drop next year according to a new report. READ  

National
Swede's homemade submarine nets fortune
Eric Westerberg's homemade submarine Isabelle. Photo: PS.nu

Swede's homemade submarine nets fortune

A Swedish submarine enthusiast who spent over 3,500 hours making his own vessel has sold his prized possession for 705,000 kronor ($98,500) in an online auction. READ  

National
Cops reported for making 'Roma' comment

Cops reported for making 'Roma' comment

Police in northern Sweden have been reported to the Equality Ombudsman for describing a wanted suspect as having a "Roma appearance." READ  

Donald Duck and Zlatan get Swedish votes
A political career for Zlatan? Some fans seem to want to see that. Photo: Peter Dejong/TT

Donald Duck and Zlatan get Swedish votes

The Bilderberg Group, the Satanic Initiative and Adolf Hitler all received votes in Sweden’s general election, according to a list released by the country’s electoral authority. READ  

Sport
Stockholm fails bid to host Euro 2020 games
The Swedish team in action. Photo: TT

Stockholm fails bid to host Euro 2020 games

Sweden's capital has missed out on a chance to host any Euro 2020 games, with Copenhagen the only Scandinavian city among the thirteen winning locations. READ  

Vicar: God rejects fans of women priests
Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Uppsala, is the first woman to head the Swedish church. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Vicar: God rejects fans of women priests

A Swedish priest has been fired after telling his congregation that people who support female priests would be rejected by God - despite the fact that his own church is led by a woman. READ  

Analysis
Women set to dominate top post-election jobs
Margot Wallström (right) could become Stefan Löfven's new Minister of Foreign Affairs. Photo: TT

Women set to dominate top post-election jobs

Sweden could soon get a female Foreign Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt's ousted Moderate Party is preparing for its first woman leader and the grandmother of actor Hugh Grant's son is being tipped as Parliament's next Speaker. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
The 'black gold' of Sweden's west coast.
National
West Sweden prepares for the 2014 lobster premiere
Society
What's on in Sweden
Politics
How Sweden Democrats went mainstream
Politics
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Gallery
Property of the week - Eskilstuna
Blog updates

20 September

How a Frog Can Save the Environment (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"What we do we imagine when we think of children enjoying nature? Perhaps it’s fishing, marveling at lightning bugs on a muggy July day or blowing on the wispy petals of a dandelion to make a special wish. But perhaps most iconic of the playful innocence in childhood is hopping after and trying to catch..." READ »

 

19 September

Editor’s blog (The Local Sweden) »

"Happy Friday readers! It sure has been a exciting week in Sweden, where we’re set to get a new Prime Minister after Fredrik Reinfeldt stepped down following Sunday’s elections. The Local blogged live from the key political gatherings across Stockholm. Why not re-visit the action by taking a look at our photos, tweets, videos and analysis? Since the..." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
How I became a surf blogger when I moved to Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Gallery
People-watching: September 11th
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Politics
Five possible election outcomes
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Gallery
Property of the week - Hornstull, Stockholm
Analysis
Five differences between the UK and Sweden
Welshman Jonny Luck is now a chef in Sweden
Society
How I opened my own restaurant in Sweden's Malmö
Sponsored Article
Stockholm tech fest: relive the magic
Gallery
People-watching September 8th
Photo: TT
Politics
Feminists fight for first seats
Politics
Immigration cut push from Sweden Democrats
Sheryl Sandberg says women have "low expectations"
Tech
Facebook exec talks women's limits in Swedish business
Politics
Left Party calls for justice and equality
Politics
Green Party wants 'better world' for kids
Lifestyle
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
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

867
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
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
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