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Back to the 1960s with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


chitty-chittyI’m currently reading Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to my six-year-old daughter. I can’t even begin to count the many times I have watched the movie version. In the UK, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Sound of Music and The Great Escape are always shown on the TV during the Christmas holidays and people are happy to watch them again and again and again.

I can say that Fleming is no great children’s writer with clunky copy throughout – it’s actually quite tough to read out loud. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was also published in 1964 and last night it showed – I was reading away when I spotted the next sentence contained the word ‘Golliwog’ used as an insult by one of the characters. (Context – we’re a white family from England.) I hesitated and wondered whether I should read all the text. I knew it was a word that my daughter will have never encountered so I skipped ahead and resumed reading.

Afterwards, I wondered whether I had done the right thing – after all the book is 45 years old and written by an old school author cloaked in the last remnants of British colonialism. Trying to explain racism to a six-year-old would not be easy and I’d rather try that one in a couple of years when she becomes more aware of the grim realities of the world.

As a child, I attended a middle school in a rural area and there was one black kid in the entire school. I remember that the word ‘golliwog’ was a frequent insult in our playground in the late 1970s. I even heard it in television sitcoms. It was only a few years since the end of The Black and White Minstrels show. Things have changed but I have always believed it’s important to consider the period when a book was a written (eg To Kill A Mockingbird) or a movie (eg The Wild One with Marlon Brando) was made.

I have managed to explain death, wars, theft and bad people who hang around parks to my daughter. The word ‘golliwog’ is going to have to wait.

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Richard Davies

2 Responses to “Back to the 1960s with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”

  1. Hi there

    I am also reading this with my child – he’s 5 and we are up to the last chapter. Either I missed ‘golliwog’ or we haven’t come to it yet (I would have skipped over it too), but we have had interesting conversations about how the book and film are different, particularly the colour of the car. I agree its difficult to read out loud – long sentences. It’s good to know people are still reading these books and I had no idea until we found it that it was written by Ian Flemming, though perhaps I should have guessed as it features a fancy car full of gadgets!

  2. Greetings!

    I tripped over your posting whilst looking for information on the Fleming book (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). I guess I would agree with you (and Ms. Foster), but maybe not so much in the exactly the same thought process.

    I read the book years ago (I now have two copies) as a younger lad. I, too, was amazed at the difference betwixt the book and the movie. As I aged I found this was the norm, not the exception. Both are good, in there own context.

    The movie was (is) a family friendly movie. Heroes, villains, magic, and song. There are plenty of adult themes to entertain that go over a child’s head, as they should. (The lady dancing in her underwear, for instance.)

    The book, with it’s questionable word, is good. It is not, in my opinion, aimed at the age group you are reading to (5-6 years). Fleming wrote the book when his own son was twelve. I would consider it to be more for an adolescence audience. Gangsters, explosions, vigilante-ism (Mr. Potts choosing to blow up the stores rather than calling in the authorities), and the fascinating race car turned family tourer. This is the stuff of young boys (and some girls) imaginations.

    I would not read Rifles For Watie to a six year old, though it won the Newbery Medal. I would, however, strongly recommend it to any one 13 to adult. It deals with some heady issues (war, guns, family, first love, honor), but on a level that can be grasped and in a way that is entertaining. This was the first book I read that DIDN’T have any illustrations.

    I recall using the term “Idiot” in my mothers presence at about the age of your child. I was scolded, which was better than soap! This word did not seem to bother you, nor did some of the other above mentioned themes. Perhaps they were skipped over, too.

    I guess the moral is for us to proof read the material before we read to our young ones. There is at least one edition of the movie story line that was printed. That might be the better choice.

    Maybe, when your kids are older, perhaps, you can introduce them to Count Zborowski and the stories of the REAL Chittys. (There were three.)