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07/11/2007
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The Mini-Penis Scandal

US Publisher Turns away from Cartoon Nudity

By and Elke Schmitter

The drawings are harmless really. But a US publisher has decided not to publish a series by children's book author Rotraut Susanne Berner. The problem? Cartoon breasts and a half-millimeter-long willy.

It is rare that a German book generates any interest in the United States. And children's books are usually completely off the radar. The delight was thus all the greater at the Hildesheimer Gerstenberg publishing house when a query came in from the American children's book purveyor Boyds Mills Press for a series by Rotraut Susanne Berner.

"It was really a sensation," Berner told SPIEGEL ONLINE. At first. As it turned out, there were a couple of changes that had to be made before the books could be unleashed on the America public. First off, smokers had to be removed from the illustrations. But that wasn’t all. One image shows a scene from an art gallery -- and for realism's sake, there is a cartoonish nude hanging on the wall along with a tiny, seven-millimeter-tall statue of a naked man on a pedestal.

American kiddies, obviously, could never be expected to handle such a depiction of the human body. The US publisher, somewhat awkwardly, asked if they could be removed.

The author, not surprisingly, considers the request to be absurd. The statue's mini-willy, the author points out, is hardly even a half-millimeter long. And the naked woman hanging on the wall? Hardly a realistic depiction of the female anatomy. The US publisher, says Berner, was embarrassed to ask for the changes, but they were even more afraid of how American mommies and daddies might react if junior were exposed to such pornography.

For the author, any kind of self-censorship was completely out of the question. She said she could maybe have lived with putting black bars in front of the problem spots, but "invisible censorship" was out. "If you're going to censor something, then the reader should be aware of it," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

But the US publisher would have none of it -- after all, one hardly wants to call attention to one's own deletions. Meaning, that the Hildesheimer publishing house will have to forego the honor of being published in the US -- and American children are safe from shocking German sensibilities.

Many children in the rest of the world, however, have already been exposed. Berner is one of the best-known contemporary children's book authors. And the series, which playfully follows the daily life of children and adults through the four seasons, is already a bestseller in 13 countries from Japan to the Faroe Islands. So far, no other country has been overly concerned about the cartoon boobies and mini-penis, Berner said.

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