Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thea Stilton Destroys Israel

Who, you may ask, is Thea Stilton?  Why, she is merely one of the most beloved mice on God's green earth, at least if you're between the ages of six and twelve.  The younger sister of Geronimo Stilton, a hard-working mouse journalist, Thea and her brother (and numerous associates) are the featured characters in a series of children's books, originally published in Milan, Italy by Edizioni Piemme, which have become a worldwide sensation - - - again, if you're within a certain age range. In addition to the score of books in the series, the adventures of the Stilton mice have been featured in "graphic novels" (a fancy name for expensive comic books), and have even spawned a televised cartoon series in Belgium and the Netherlands.  And now she's destroyed, or more precisely erased, the nation of Israel.

One of the conceits of the books is that they were actually written by the mice, when in fact they were authored by Elisabetta Dami, pictured below, who is certainly as prolific as a mouse, at least in her writing. But that's no problem: children's authors have often employed pseudonyms, from Uncle Remus to Dr. Seuss.  What's more problematic is that, in one of her latest children's books, she has included a map of the Middle East which expands Jordan and erases Israel.  Naughty, naughty, Signorina Dami: one shouldn't use children's literature as a way of promoting one's own political fantasies.  

The offending book, which was published in 2012, tells the story of some "investigative journalists" (the starring mice in the series), on an adventure in Egypt.  Appropriately, the book included a child-friendly map of Egypt and its neighboring countries; inappropriately, it did not include Israel, which of course borders Egypt. This was either an honest mistake which should have been caught by an editor or proofreader (although it's hard to imagine any literate Italian adult being unaware of the existence of Israel), or it was deliberate. The former explanation is most unlikely. Personally, I smell a rat.

As noted, the books have become a worldwide success.  Since the world does, despite Signorina Dami's wishes, include a nation called Israel, the "mistake" was immediately noticed by parents in that nation.  According to the Times of Israel:

"Adina Golombek, a Jerusalem resident who emigrated to Israel from Canada last year, said she was shocked to discover Israel’s absence while reading the book with her 7-year-old son.

“'I wanted to show my son where we lived in the Middle East, but it didn’t say Israel on the map; instead it said Jordan,' Golombek told The Times of Israel. 'I showed him the problem and drew in the border of where Israel is today.'”

The blatant use of a children's book to "erase" Israel (long a commonplace in Arab and Muslim textbooks) was widely noticed when the book was reprinted in English by Scholastic, Inc., the world's largest publisher of children's and Young Adult literature: a company which attained colossal importance in the publishing world when it obtained the rights to the Harry Potter series, and has gone on to dazzle the Young Adult market with such titles as The Hunger Games.  From such a respected company, Thea Stilton's latest shenanigans became somewhat less than amusing.

To its great credit, Scholastic, Inc. has acknowledged the slip-up, and has stopped selling the book until the map is corrected in a subsequent edition.  Granted, someone at Scholastic was asleep at the switch; but these things happen, and company spokesmen have clearly stated that no geographical mischaracterization was intended.

A tempest in a teapot?  Perhaps, if one considers the political socialization of children to be of no importance.  Experts such as Bruno Bettelheim, author of The Uses of Enchantment, have always thought otherwise.  As for Elisabetta Dami, she can now add "propagandist" to "children's author" on her biography.

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