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Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books Week: Picture Books

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

“Even though not every book
will be right for every reader,
the ability to read, speak, think,
and express ourselves freely
are core American values. 
Protecting one of our
most fundamental rights –
the freedom to read –
means respecting
each other’s differences
and the right of all people
to choose for themselves
what they and their families read.”
~ Barbara Jones,
director of the American Library Association’s
Office for Intellectual Freedom

This week (Sept. 24 - Oct. 1) is Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  When it comes to children and books, I believe that:
  • It is important for parents to know what their children are reading. 
  • If a parent is concerned about a book his/her child wants to read, the parent should read it first and then decide if it is appropriate for the child.  
  • Parents have the right to tell their children not to read a book that they, the parents, are concerned about.  (Older children will find a way to read a book their parents have banned, if they really want to read it, however.  Ignoring a subject or forbidding it is likely to increase kids' curiosity.  In my opinion, it is better for the parent to discuss the book -- and his/her objections to it -- with the child openly and honestly, rather than banning it or pretending it doesn't exist.) 

I also firmly believe that other people should not be able to tell me what my children can't read, or to try and restrict the books that libraries and schools offer. 

Below are a few of the picture books for children that have been challenged and/or banned over the years.  (All of them are books I have happily read to my own kids and recommend to others, by the way.)  Later this week I will share some of my favorite banned books for older children.... 

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, written and illustrated by William Steig, 1970...  This book has been banned at times because of its depiction of characters as animals, particularly police officers depicted as pigs. 

I remember my elementary school librarian reading this story to my class when I was in 2nd grade or so.  I've also read it many times to my own kids, never realizing that the book had ever been controversial.  I've always liked this magical story about the donkey who finds a special pebble.  Sylvester soon discovers that it will make his wishes come true -- but in the end, he learns that sometimes what we already have is all we really need.

The Lorax, written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss, 1971...  This book has been banned in some areas of the U.S. for being "an allegorical political commentary."  Yes.  Yes, it is.  So what?

I've loved this story ever since I was a little girl, although I probably saw "The Lorax" movie (released in 1972) on tv before I ever read the book.  The Once-ler arrives in a wonderful land, filled with Truffula Trees, Swomee-Swans, Brown Bar-ba-loots, and Humming-Fishes.  He begins using the trees to make thneeds -- something "everyone needs".  Only the Lorax speaks for the trees, but the Once-ler doesn't listen.   Soon the trees and the animals, everything that made the land wonderful, are gone, and finally the Once-ler understands the damage he's done. 

Where the Sidewalk Ends, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein, 1974.  Among other things, such as "death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for legitimate authority, and rebellion against parents", some people also have perceived the poem "Dreadful" (with its line "someone ate the baby") as supporting cannibalism.  (Really?)

A Light in the Attic, also written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein, 1981.  This book has been challenged because it contains the poem "How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes" which suggests (tongue-in-cheek, I might add) that children break dishes instead of washing them.  

I reviewed both of these books here a few months ago.

Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, 1963...  This book has occasionally been challenged for having "supernatural elements" and a child who yells at his mother.  (Because that never happens in real life!) 

I previously reviewed this book here.

The Story of Babar, written and illustrated by Jean de Brunhoff, 1933... This book has been challenged at times for promoting colonialism and being "politically and morally offensive".

Babar is an elephant.  When he is young, his mother is shot by a hunter, and Babar flees.  At last, he arrives at a city.  He makes new friends there, buys himself a snazzy new wardrobe, and then eventually returns to the jungle where he is crowned King of the Elephants.  I remember being delighted by all the Babar books when I was young!

Heather Has Two Mommies, written by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Diana Souza, 1989...  This was one of the most challenged books of the 1990's, due to its homosexual themes.

I taught my kids about homosexuality at a young age because they have an openly gay loved one in their lives.  However, I'd like to think that, even if that weren't the case, I would still have read them books like Heather Has Two Mommies, teaching them that there are all different kinds of wonderful people in the world and all different kinds of families. 

Parts of this book may not hold a child's interest, such as how Mama Kate and Mama Jane met or the brief explanation of artificial insemination, but the rest of it makes for a good children's story.  Above all, it celebrates 3-year-old Heather's strong relationship with both of her mommies, and the fact that "Each family is special.  The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other."

And Tango Makes Three, written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, and illustrated by Henry Cole, 2005...  The most challenged book of 2006 to 2010, this book has been banned from some school districts, again for "homosexual themes".

I hadn't heard of this book until recently, while doing research for this post.  I went searching for it at the library and was disappointed to find that it is not shelved with the regular children's books, but only in a special section for parents and teachers.  (Though that's better than not being in the library at all.) 

This book is based on the true story of two male chinstrap penguins at Central Park Zoo who became a couple in 1998, then hatched (and raised) a chick from an egg laid by another penguin pair. 

This is such a sweet, tender story, with adorable illustrations!  (I should probably mention that I am obsessed with penguins, LOL.)  I think it is perfect for introducing young children to the concept of homosexuality in a simple and -- for those parents who may not be entirely comfortable with the subject -- non-threatening way.  And, once again, the theme of how love makes a family is clear.

For more banned/challenged picture books, please see my 2012 post on the subject.

What are some of your favorite banned or challenged books?  I hope you will join me in celebrating Banned Books Week by re-reading old favorites and checking out new ones! :)

1 comment:

  1. Oh, the penguin one looks so cute! <3