Last week at work we were discussing taboo or risky content in picture books--subjects, words, or images that should raise a red flag and either be taken out, or dealt with carefully where appropriate. Some of the things that came up:
Content to be careful about including (unless the book is specifically about the subject):
-Depicting parents/teachers in a negative light (silly is acceptable, but neglectful/abusive is not)
-Difficult concepts, like homelessness, that are tough to understand/grasp even as adults
-"Oh my God" or similar
-"stupid," "idiot, " "retard,"etc.
-words concerning violence or death (for example, one sibling saying to the other in a fit of anger, "I'm going to kill you!")
Things to watch in the illustrations:
-potential racial indicators that could be interpreted negatively, even if unintentional. For example, a book we published a while ago featured a white chicken and a brown chicken, and one review criticized it for depicting the brown chicken as the "naughty" one.
-alcohol (we discussed whether or not it was okay to have adults or animals drinking alcohol--I would probably err on the side of caution, unless it felt absolutely necessary for some reason. What do you think?)
-safety issues--kids especially should be shown wearing helmet if on a bicycle, even if the "kid" is an animal. Where applicable, people should be wearing seat belts in cars. Watch for kids in dangerous/precarious positions, for example, a child standing on a chair on tiptoes reaching for something, etc.
-nudity (little kid "bottoms" seem to be acceptable on occasion)
This is by no means a complete list, and of course, these are not "rules"--just things that in our experience we've had some pushback from customers or accounts on. There are always exceptions.
One observation I had is that it seems that picture books have become much more careful than in the past. For example, one of my favorite picture books as a child, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig, I think may be too scary/depressing to be published today. We also found that in some cases, these "rules" could be gotten around by using animals instead of people. For example, Are You My Mother? would probably be too sad and scary if it were a little human child instead of a bird.
So, what do you think? Anything to add? Anything you disagree with?