smoking but no lemonade

Alfons Åberg is one of the most popular children’s book characters in Sweden, created by Gunilla Bergström who sadly passed away three years ago. The first Alfons-book was written in 1972 and I grew up listening to stories about Alfons Åberg, and have continued that tradition with my son who also has come to love Alfons. Alfons is a little boy, how old depends on the book, and he lives together with his pipe-smoking dad. I have brought all my old Alfons-books from Sweden and my son has got a few new ones as presents from family and friends, and we read some of them almost every week.

We have come to like the first Alfons book best – God natt Alfons Åberg (Good night Alfons Åberg). In this book Alfons is 4 years old and does not want to go to sleep, so he keeps calling his dad and asking about things – he wants to hear a story, he has forgotten to brush his teeth so dad gets his toothbrush, he is thirsty, he needs to pee so dad gets his potty, he wants his dad to check if there is a lion in the closet, and so on.

When we started to read my tattered God natt Alfons Åberg-book that I got when I was just a baby, my son was not yet two and every time we came to the page when Alfons was thirsty and his dad brought him a glass of lemonade after he had already brought Alfons his toothbrush, I smiled to myself thinking how I would use this as a conversation starter with my son when he got older – what better way to talk about dental health as well as the importance of thinking ahead and doing things in the right order. When my son got older though, he got a new copy of this book from a relative and since the old one was rapidly falling apart we started to use the new book instead. The first time we read the new book was the first time in quite a while that we revisited this particular Alfons-story. I remember noticing something a bit off while reading it, but it was not until the second or third time that I realized that Alfons’ dad no longer brought a glass of lemonade to Alfons but instead just a glass. I even started to question myself – had I made up the lemonade-detail, had I been reading words that were not there?

I lived in uncertainty while trying to remember where I had hidden the old book that was in great danger of loosing pages in the hand of a 4-year-old. Finally one day the book showed up and I could find comfort in that I had certainly not made up anything lemonade-related, but I also found some distress in discovering that in 2010 when this edition was printed, they had thought it advisable to censor a word (and thus remove a great learning opportunity). When looking more closely at the page, I saw that even the images were edited – the glass was no longer filled with a red color and on the bottle standing on the kitchen counter there was no longer the word saft – lemonade. Surprisingly, on the image where Alfons is pouring the lemonade onto his bed to have a reason for calling dad again, the liquid has become white whereas on the cover there is still the color of lemonade being spilt on the bed.

Had someone told me that God natt Alfons Åberg had been changed, I would have jumped to the conclusion that Alfons’ dad’s pipe must have been removed, since you can see him smoking this pipe on almost every page, and since smoking is arguably not something advisable to advertise to small children. But the pipe is still there in dad’s mouth, so why cannot Alfons’ dad, doing his best as a single parent, forgetting to brush his son’s teeth, be allowed to bring his son a glass of lemonade as well? I am really curious as to what lead to the deletion of the word lemonade. Did children’s dental status changed for the worse as a result of this book? Did upset parents write to the publisher complaining about how they now have a lemonade-fight on their hands every night because of this book. Was there an outcry from the dental health community? However that may be, I have been searching the book from cover to cover without finding any indication showing that this fourth edition would have been altered in any way, which I find a bit surprising (and looking at the book with searching eyes, I found a few other changes as well).

I guess many years from now, there will be a lot of children who never get the chance to meet lemonade-drinking Alfons, and will never be the wiser. So I will try to keep my original book in readable shape for my son to use when he gets older should he want to. And I look forward to the censorship-conversation with him in the future. Alfons – always a good conversation starter.

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2 thoughts on “smoking but no lemonade”

  1. Johanna+Jormfeldt

    This is remarkable. The question about revising or not revising old books because of changing times is fascinating. I have always – after changing my mind back and forward a few times – come to the conclusion that revisions should not be made. If necessary the editor could write a comment reminding about the context. But if revisions actually are made, it should be mandatory to inform the reader.

    Let’s hold on tight to good old lemonade stories!

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