United Poultry Concerns May 8, 2001
Letters Re: Children's Book TOM Celebrates Chicken Killing
Letter of April 23, 2001 from Sheila Schwartz, United Federation of Teachers

Letter of April 27, 2001 from Norm Phelps, The Fund for Animals

Letter of May 7, 2001 from Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns

Letter of April 23, 2001 from Sheila Schwartz, United Federation of Teachers follows:

United Federation of Teachers
Humane Education Committee
260 Park Avenue South
New York, New York 10010

April 23, 2001

Mr. Doug Whitman, President
Penguin Putnam Children's Group
345 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

Dear Mr. Whitman:

I am writing concerning the Penguin Putnam book TOM written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. We are hoping that you will remove TOM from the Penguin Putnam booklist immediately.

While this book may illustrate the bond between grandfather and grandson, it does so while presenting the butchering of chickens as a fun and humorous activity. The boy in the story is encouraged to bury a chicken' head in the ground to grow a "chicken bush" thereby further distorting the process by which chickens are born, live and die for human consumption.

This book then degenerates further by presenting scenes in which the grandfather teaches Tommie to scare the girls in his class and his teacher with dead chicken's feet. Tommy learns to pull the tendons on the chicken's feet, paints the toe nails red and proceeds to scare the girls. He is sent to the principal's office for his "prank" but the implicit message is that this was a fun activity inspired by his beloved grandfather.

We are surprised that Penguin Putnam would offer this book! We have encouraged the use of many of your fine books in the past at our teacher training conferences which are designed to promote literacy as well as compassion and responsibility toward animals. We hope that you will give serious consideration to removing this book from your list of titles offered in the very near future.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Sheila Schwartz, Ed.D., Chairperson
UFT Humane Education Committee

Letter of April 27, 2001 from Norm Phelps, The Fund for Animals follows:


April 27, 2001

Victoria Wells, Editor
G. P. Putnam's Sons
345 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

Dear Ms. Wells:

On behalf of The Fund for Animals' 200,000 members and active supporters nationwide, I am writing to request that Penguin Putnam remove TOM by Tomie dePaola from your booklist.

Our reasons for this request are twofold: First, TOM teaches small children that killing animals is a source of fun. Tommy's grandfather, the butcher, teaches Tommy "games" to play with the dead and dismembered chickens, such as pulling on the tendons of severed legs to make the feet open and close. Surely, in the present day, no sane, civilized person could fail to see this "game" as grotesque and sadistic. The social science and law enforcement communities have long identified childhood cruelty to animals as an indicator of potential violence against human beings, and the FBI includes animal cruelty in its profile of serial killers. At a time when America is reeling from an epidemic of violence by children against other children, it is irresponsible of Penguin Putnam to portray the killing of harmless and helpless animals as a source of entertainment and pleasure.

Secondly, TOM is the most blatantly sexist children's book that I have seen in decades. Tommy's grandfather encourages Tommy to paint the claws on the severed chickens' feet bright red and use them to tease and frighten girls. This kind of "macho" gender stereotyping is entirely inappropriate. It teaches young boys that it's fun to bully and terrorize girls, who are treated as objects of derision. Out of such backgrounds come spousal abusers.

This kind of antisocial behavior may have been considered great fun in the 1940's when Mr. DePaola was in elementary school, but it has no place in a society that is struggling to reduce its level of violence, increase civility, and promote equality for women. I am aware that Mr. DePaola is a well known children's author, and that he is trying to teach lessons about cultural diversity and intergenerational bonding. But when he also teaches cruelty to animals and disrespect to women, he defeats his own purpose. After my parents died - in 1948, when I was nine years old - I learned a lot about intergenerational bonding from my own grandfather; but thank goodness, he never taught me that dead animals are toys or that bullying and intimidating women makes you feel like a man. I hope that Penguin Putnam will stop teaching those lessons to our children by removing TOM from your catalog without delay.

So that we can keep our members informed, please let me know what action you plan to take.

Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely yours,

Norm Phelps
Program Coordinator

Letter of May 7, 2001 from Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns follows:

May 7, 2001

Mr. Doug Whiteman,
President
Penguin Putnam Children's Group
345 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

Dear Mr. Whiteman:

We have received Victoria Wells' letter of April 5, 2001 regarding Tom by Tomie dePaola in response to our letter to you of March 29, 2001. In that letter I asked Penguin Putnam to remove Tom from its booklist. I am renewing that request now. Tom promotes cruelty to animals and disrespect for girls and women. We are disappointed and displeased that Penguin Putnam thinks to dismiss the legitimate issues we have raised about Tom. Therefore, I am raising them again.

&qupt;Reinforcement of the bond between generations" in Tom is based on slaughtering chickens and the sadistic pleasure that old Tom passes on to his grandson: scaring "girls" with the slaughtered body parts of helpless animal victims. Does Penguin Putnam fail to perceive the unfitness of this message for young children?

The reprimand at the end has no ethical content. The Fund for Animals wrote to you on April 27th that "TOM teaches small children that killing animals is a source of fun," and that the law enforcement community now recognizes childhood cruelty to animals as an indicator of potential violence against human beings. Tom illustrates the bond between abuse and derision of nonhuman animals and abuse and derision of human beings.

The fact that Mr. dePaolo and his grandfather may have enjoyed a bond based on their mutual enjoyment of committing acts of cruelty does not justify turning that experience into a children's book. As a grown man writing for a large impressionable audience of kindergarten and elementary school children, Mr. dePaolo has acted irresponsibly. He could not have gotten away with scaring girls and women with the hacked off paws of dogs.

We will not let this matter go, Mr. Whiteman. We deal with the vicious consequences of Penguin Putnam and Mr. dePaolo's style of bad judgment and moral indifference to such matters every single day. This is not a joke. I am urging you once again to remove Tom from Penguin Putnam's booklist now. Tom is an ugly and offensive offering. It reflects badly upon you. We are going to make a very big deal of this situation if you do not get rid of the book. Please advise me of your plans. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Karen Davis, PhD
President

Related links:

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
757-678-7875
FAX: 757-678-5070
www.upc-online.org

(Letters Re: Children's Book TOM Celebrates Chicken Killing)