Action Alert

Children’s Book Celebrates Chicken Killing as Boyish Mischief

Protest to Publisher & Others

Killer Tom
UPC photo by Karen Davis
Book Title: TOM
Author & Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Publisher: Penguin Putnam
Target Audience: Kindergarten & Elementary School Children
First Published 1993. Republished 1997


Phyllis Grann, President, CEO
Penguin Putnam
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

David Shanks, COO
Penguin Putnam
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

Susan Peterson Kennedy, Exec. Vice President
Penguin Putnam
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
“Grandfather: ‘See that little white string thing? It's called a tendon. If you pull it, the chicken foot opens and closes. Try it.’

“Tommy tried. It was scary, but it made him giggle. Tom put two chicken feet in a bag and tied it with string.”

Tom centers on the relationship between a boy named Tommy and his grandfather whom he is named after. The two of them do different things together until the action moves to the grandfather's butcher shop, butcher table, and the killing of chickens at the shop. The cover of Tom shows the grandfather smiling at his meat counter with a row of defeathered chickens hanging upside down in shackles with their faces still on in the background. In the book, the grandfather is shown in his back room chopping up chickens while others he has killed there hang upside down in shackles. The grandfather hands Tommy a dead chicken's head to bury in the ground to grow a "chicken bush." Then the grandfather teaches Tommy to scare his classmates and teacher with dead chickens' feet. Several pages show Tommy perfecting this tactic. He paints the claws' toe nails bright red.

Killer Tom2

In response to United Poultry Concerns' complaint, Penguin Putnam replied on April 5, 2001, "we received many starred reviews citing the book's way of 'reinforcing the bond between generations' and praising the author for championing 'the special relationship he had with his grandfather.'" And, Tommy "was sent to the principal's office as punishment" for his "prank."

Tom is an irresponsible book with a desensitizing message. It treats chicken killing and butchering animals as humorous. Scaring women and girls with body parts is presented as hilarious. Tommy is sent to the principal's office for his "prank," not for the cruel and sadistic delight he exhibits. This book gets away with its machismo and inhumaneness by being placed in a "cultural diversity-old world charm" perspective. The theme of "boys will be boys" is presented as integral to family humor, "male bonding," and a cute old grandfather. Tom is unfit for children. It teaches that it's cool to be cruel without any comparable teaching about what animal slaughter truly entails or how "girls" feel being taunted by fresh little boys. At the end grandfather and grandson are "wink[ing]" and "think[ing] of something else to do."

What Can I Do?
  • Write to Penguin Putnam (see contact information above) and politely request that Tom be removed from its booklist immediately.

  • Express your concerns to Our Children, the official publication of the National PTA, which addresses education from preschool through grade 12, including how to create safe and nurturing environments.
    Barbara Sargent
    Assistant to the President
    National PTA
    330 North Wabash Avenue #2100
    Chicago, IL 60611-3603
    Assistant Secretary
    Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
    U.S. Department of Education
    400 Maryland Avenue, SW
    Washington, DC 20202-6100
    1-800-USA Learn (872-53276)
  • Contact your State Department of Education. To learn who to write to and where, go to: You will see a map of the United States. Click on your state.

  • If you have a child in school, see if Tom is on the library shelf and if so, request that it be removed. The book is both sexist and speciesist.

Please request written replies from everyone you write to. Please keep your own letter short, firm, professional, and to the point. Thank you for helping to get rid of Tom.