Censorship by Debate? or the Curious, Electronic E-fair of the "Hippo Smack"

Hazel Edwards


‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’ picture book series has achieved iconic status in Australia.  Colorfully illustrated by Deborah Niland, the titles explore the reassurance of having an imaginary hippo friend who accompanies a little girl through all ‘first-time’ scary experiences like starting school, going to hospital or on holiday, or having a new baby in the family. The books celebrate imagination and self-esteem. Internationally the series has sold over a million copies and has been translated into Japanese.  It has crossed media into puppetry, performance, video, audio, music and songs, Auslan (signing) for deaf children and Braille. Nominated by readers as one of the ABC’s most popular books of all time, it has won numerous awards and is even painted as a favourite character on the side of a mobile library bus.

Originally published by Hodder, when the titles were moved to Penguin in 2004, a line in the first title was queried.  At a point in the story where the little girl gets in trouble for drawing on “Daddy’s best book”, it was suggested that the original “Daddy gave me a smack” be changed to “Daddy growled at me.”

This generated a public controversy that played out, most unexpectedly, in the public and online media of radio, television, email, internet chat and blogs.

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680