This week is banned books week- September 21st through the 27th. It is definitely not a week to celebrate. But it’s a week to acknowledge the disservice that is still done in 2014, in this country. When a book is “banned,” it’s not banned across the board and pulled from every shelf of every bookstore or library. The American Library Association puts out a list of books that have been challenged or pulled from various public libraries across the country, and a substantial amount of those books are children’s books being removed from school libraries. This happens when some overreaching parent decides that the material is offensive for whatever reason, and not only do they not want their own child to be exposed to it, but they feel confident that they know what’s best for other people’s children as well.
Books like And Tango Made Three, the true story of two male penguins that nested together in New York’s Central Park Zoo and hatched another couple’s egg and formed a family, was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007, and 2010. Parents across the country asked their children’s school libraries to either place the book in “restricted” sections or pull it altogether, worried that their children might be presented with the very idea of same-sex families. Also books like Where the Wild Things Are, which after its release in 1963 was widely banned in the south for glorifying tantrums and angry behavior. Harry Potter is the number one most frequently banned book of the last decade; a series that can be credited with getting an entire generation of children to read was also challenged by several Christian groups for promoting witchcraft. Winnie the Pooh and Charlotte’s Web have been banned because talking animals are an insult to God. A California school district tried to ban The Lorax, citing its criminalization of the foresting industry. Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen featured nudity. James and the Giant Peach contained the word “ass.”
In fact, I remember when I was reading James and the Giant Peach aloud to the kids that I raised my eyebrows when I came to word “ass.” And then I continued on to finish the sentence. I looked up to see if the kids had any questions. Toby’s eyes widened a little and he said “is he supposed to say that?” And I said “No, it’s not a nice word. But it does have two meanings, a bum or a donkey. And I think the centipede probably meant that he was as stupid as a donkey. It’s still a nasty thing to call someone. Don’t do it.” Done. We moved on. And I didn’t have to deny other children with other parents access to the book.
I’m not saying all children’s books are great or even appropriate, and I’m not saying every child should read every book. I’m just saying that if you object to your children reading a particular book, then don’t read them that book. Tell your friends how much you didn’t like it, shout it from the roof tops. But don’t shelter everyone else by censoring it. Let others decide for themselves.
Looking through my children’s bookshelves, I’ve come up with a list of books that have been challenged or banned for one reason or another, that my children love (and haven’t been completely ruined by reading).
- Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (racism)
- Strega Nona, by Tomie de Paola (magic)
- Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig (police officers portrayed as pigs)
- James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl (ass, also it’s really scary)
- Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak (naughty behavior, scary images)
- Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling (witchcraft and wizardry– the very reason we love it!)
- Where’s Waldo, by Martin Handford (inappropriate imagery– sideboob)
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank L. Baum (witches, good and bad)
- Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein (promotes drug use and disrespect for authority)
- Little Red Riding Hood, by Trina Schart Hyman (there’s wine in the basket for grandmother)