Learning to dislike graffiti?

I have sometimes wondered where some people develop the unshakeable conviction that graffiti is ‘wrong’…

Well, today I discovered one possible place: they learn it in school. My daughter is in the first grade of primary school (which in Australia is called ‘Prep’), and she is learning to read. Every night she brings home a reader, and she reads it to me or to her dad. Today’s reader was called Tammy Toodlepepper Paints the Town (by Tracey Reeder, 2000).

The story in this book involves Tammy waking up and wondering what to do today. She decides to plant flowers, but in her garden she discovers ‘there was graffiti all over her gate’. So instead of gardening, Tammy paints over the graffiti. She paints purple and red flowers instead.

She is so inspired by the experience of painting out this graffiti that the next day she decides to do some more. She gets a little cart and puts her tins of paint in it, puts on overalls, and drags the cart all over town, painting out graffiti wherever she sees it – on walls, on the side of a building, and on a bridge. The illustrations show graffiti as a black squiggly line covering each surface, and, we are told, Tammy replaces the graffiti with what are clearly supposed to be lovely pictures – black and yellow bumblebees, green and brown trees, a truck and two buses. Each time she finds new graffiti, her reaction is the same: ‘oh dear, what a mess!’, she says. At the end of the day, she heads home, saying, ‘That’s it for today. No more mess to paint.’

I guess there are bits and pieces of ideology threaded through the majority of kids’ books: things to do with heteronormativity (the frog turned into a prince and married the princess), or with race (I can well recall growing up with Noddy books, and the later furore about the character of the Golliwog, who has since been excised from most modern Noddy stories). I hadn’t realised kids are also being taught that graffiti is always ‘a mess’ and must always be cleaned off or painted out. As with many bits and pieces of ideology, it’s depressing to see the poverty of imagination revealed in Tammy Toodlepepper Paints the Town.

4 comments so far

  1. Karen on

    Hopefully kids see past the basic message, and realise that Tammy herself is only replacing graffiti with another form of graffiti (albeit a more asthetically pleasing one than black squiggles)

  2. Kurt on

    Right on Karen … Tammy’s flowers sounds like the Skippy Girls in Redfern in Sydney. Some local resident started painting these over tags, and they are now famous in their own right. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/al_again/876191362/in/set-72157600829475132/

    Anyways, an alternative to this kind of stuff is another kids author called Bob Graham. His stories sometimes have great graf in the background illustrations. “Oscar’s Half Birthday” is my favourite. I love reading his books to my kids, he has a really lovely take on city life.

  3. imagestoliveby on

    Thanks for the comments, Karen and Kurt – much appreciated!

  4. […] pro-street art or anti-graffiti influences in all manner of contemporary cultural artefacts from children’s books to Wii […]


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