A Christmas picture book from the 1960s gets some updates.
Brown and De Witt’s 1966 collaboration about a lonely, solitary, kindhearted mouse who leaves a gift of cheese for Santa will be recognizable to many—including, perhaps, some who eschewed it for outmoded gender roles and racial stereotyping in a spread introducing the protagonist’s imaginary playmates. The original text reads, “The little girls would bring their dolls / And dress up and have tea. / The boys would all play cowboys / Or be Eskimos / Or Spanish / But when he’d try to touch them, / Like a bubble they would vanish.” The accompanying illustrations show “little girl” mice in hats and dresses for a tea party and boys with stereotypical costumes and props for their pretend play. The updated version uses the word “Inuit” instead of “Eskimo” but retains the concept of playacting ethnicity and the stereotypical illustrations of a matador and a harpoon-wielding, fur-clad rodent figure. On a brighter note, the revised text rejects strict gender norms and says, “some of them would bring their dolls [and] there were others who’d play cowboys.” Abetted by an expansion of page count from 20 to 32, changes in design and layout make for a cleaner look in the new version that will enhance read-alouds, but even massaged, the spread about playmates still sounds an off note.
A revision that will still provoke reservations. (Picture book. 2-7)