|Image courtesy of the|
American Library Association
Today begins the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week. According to Wikipedia, this annual event "not only encourages readers to examine challenged literary works, but also promotes intellectual freedom in libraries, schools, and bookstores." Last year I shared some of my favorite banned/challenged picture books and books for older children. I've spent the past few weeks reading (and re-reading) several more books that have been banned or challenged over the years. I will share some middle grade and young adult novels later this week, but today I will focus on picture books:
The Giving Tree,
written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein, 1964
a previous post. This one has been challenged because some people consider it to be sexist. I disagree.
The Amazing Bone,
written and illustrated by William Steig, 1976
Pearl the pig finds and befriends a talking bone. When a fox captures her and takes Pearl home for his next meal, the crafty bone helps her to escape.
This book has been banned for "graphic and detailed violence". At one point in the story, three highway robbers jump out at Pearl, brandishing pistols and daggers, and one of them points a gun at her head. The fox also sharpens his knife, preparing to have Pearl for dinner.
I have vague memories of reading this story when I was a young girl. It's a strange tale, true, but not any scarier than most fairy tales in my opinion. It also contains quite a bit of humor.
written and illustrated by Taro Yashima, 1955
In his classroom in a small Japanese village, Chibi is an outcast. He is quiet and shy; the other children tease him and call him names. After several years of this treatment, a teacher, Mr. Isobe, takes an interest in Chibi and discovers the boy's special talent. Soon everyone at school learns to appreciate and accept Chibi's differences.
This book has been challenged because it supposedly "denigrates white American culture, promotes racial separation, and discourages assimilation".
I found this to be a touching story, one that encourages kindness and acceptance. I read it with Ben, my seven-year-old, and it prompted a discussion afterwards about how we should treat others. He thought the beginning of the book was sad (it is), but he loved the ending, just as I did.
written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, 1975
Strega Nona, or "Grandma Witch", mixes up potions and cures for the people in her village. Then one day Big Anthony discovers that she has a magical cooking pot that can instantly make pasta. When Strega Nona leaves home to visit a friend, Big Anthony decides to use the pot and boils up some instant trouble instead.
Apparently, this picture book has been challenged in the past because it "contains supernatural content and presents magic as being good". (To which I respond: It's a fairy tale, people!)
Ben and I both loved this book, the story and the pictures. Big Anthony's troubles left Ben giggling for several minutes after we finished reading it!
Uncle Bobby's Wedding,
written and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, 2008
Chloe loves to spend time with her Uncle Bobby; he is very special to her. When Uncle Bobby and Jamie announce that they are getting married, Chloe is worried that her uncle won't have time for her any more. Luckily, she soon discovers that their marriage only means that she will now have TWO special uncles who adore her.
People have challenged this book for being "specifically designed to normalize gay marriage".
I thought this was a very sweet story. (So did Ben.) It focuses on Chloe's relationship with her uncle, not on his same-sex marriage. In fact, the first time we read through it, Ben didn't even realize that Jamie was male. I had to point that out to him. (And once I did, he was completely accepting of it. As I've mentioned before, we have openly gay loved ones in our lives. In our house, a book that "normalizes gay marriage" is a good thing.)
I had talked with Ben earlier about Banned Books Week -- what it means to ban or challenge a book and why I disagree with banning books. (I also explained that I believe parents have the right to decide if a book is appropriate for their child or not.) When I told him, after reading it, that people had tried to ban this book, he was flabbergasted!
The Story of Little Black Sambo,
written by Helen Bannerman (1899)
and illustrated by Christopher Bing, 2003
A young boy outwits a group of voracious tigers, who end up turning themselves into butter (which Sambo's father collects for the family's pancakes).
This story has been challenged many times over the years since Bannerman wrote it. Half a century after it was first published, "the word 'sambo' was deemed a racial slur". Additionally, in the original book, the illustrations (also by Bannerman) were seen as "hurtful, stereotypical caricatures".
When I was a little girl, we had a Sambo's restaurant in town. The walls inside were painted with murals inspired by the story. I loved going there for pancakes, and loved the fantastical tale, as well. I had no idea at the time that there was such controversy over the name and the story. This version of the book, illustrated by Bing, is filled with vivid, beautiful pictures. The endpapers contain some history behind the story and the controversy. I think it provides a great opportunity to talk about these things with our kids.
In the Night Kitchen,
written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, 1970
Young Mickey falls asleep and dreams that he falls down into "the night kitchen" where bakers, working on some cake for morning, mistake him for milk. (How, I'm not quite sure!) Mickey manages to escape, then helps the bakers by flying up to the Milky Way for a cup of milk.
"Nudity" is the reason cited for this picture book being challenged. Yes, Mickey (a cartoonish-looking boy) is shown naked in a few of the scenes, facing both forwards and backwards. He is not drawn in explicit detail.
This was my first time ever reading this book, even though it's almost as old as I am. I found the story a bit odd, but I can understand why kids -- including Ben -- like it so much. Besides, dreams usually are a bit odd. I also think all the fuss over the nudity is quite silly.
written and illustrated by Martin Handford, 1987
Waldo travels around the world, encountering crowds of people and objects. Readers are invited to search for Waldo and the possessions he loses along the way.
The original version of this book was challenged because "in a beach scene, there is a woman who is topless." The woman in question is less than one inch tall, is lying on her stomach, and seen from one side. In the version I checked out from the library (a "special edition" from 1997), a bikini top has been added to the woman.
This book doesn't have much of a story -- it is more of a game. The very detailed pictures are fun to look through. Ben was thrilled when I brought it home; he loves this kind of thing!
written by Eve Merriam
and illustrated by Lane Smith, 1987
Apparently, some people have challenged this book because they believe it "promotes satanism, murder, and suicide". I think they read a different book than I did! (Or, perhaps, they didn't read it at all.)
I do agree that some younger kids (and maybe some older ones) might find this book to be too creepy. However, our family loves Halloween. We have a tradition of watching the movie "The Nightmare Before Christmas" every October 31st. Anyone who loves that movie is sure to love this book as well. I know I do! I've heard about this book for years, but our library doesn't carry it, so I had never read it. I finally decided to order it for myself last month, and I'm so glad I did! It is sure to become a classic at our house. :)
What are some of your favorite banned or challenged picture books? I hope you'll join me this week in re-reading some old favorites or trying a new banned/challenged book... or both!