...because it's dangerous...because you might have questions and I don't want to answer them...because too many kids like it...because it might present different points of view...because it could get you thinking...
Yes, Banned Books Week is here again!
And so apropos -- because my last post was about Maurice Sendak. Who can look at Maurice's deliciously funny illustrations for In the Night Kitchen and not be reminded that the book was banned in some places because Mickey, in his little boy dream, is shown floating naked through the night sky, then falling into a huge vat of batter at a bakery? In some places librarians actually drew clothes on Mickey. As if the body of a little boy is something to be ashamed of. Did you ever meet a small child who didn't love running around naked? It's the adults who are uncomfortable about nudity, not the kids.
But don't get me started. I've had my share of banned and/or challenged books, too.
Last weekend I was in Chicago celebrating our intellectual freedom at a Banned Books event held on the plaza outside the McCormick Freedom Museum. If you live in Chicago or you're visiting, check it out. It's a great place to take the kids. And I guarantee you'll come away with a new appreciation for our First Amendment rights -- something we take for granted until those rights are threatened or worse yet, taken away while we're not paying attention.
While in Chicago I did a TV interview about the event and talked about what the ALA Freedom to Read Commitee, and the National Coaltion Against Censorship have meant to me. I talked about how frightened and lonely I felt when my books were first challenged in the early 80's. When they were the center of an organized campaign to "rid schools and libraries" of Judy Blume books. Those who wanted to censor were determined to remove not just the books they didn't want their own kids reading, but books they didn't want any kids to read.
Last week I received a surprising e-mail. Surprising because it had nothing to do with language or sexuality (the usual reasons my books are challenged) or lack of moral tone, whatever that means, or undermining authority -- other reasons given for challenging my books. No, this was surprising because it was from a mother telling me she was demanding that Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing be removed from her daughter's classroom. Here's an excerpt from that e-mail:
I am asking the teacher to pull this book from her class list.
The desire to ban books is contagious. There is no safe book. Humor is suspect. Anything children enjoy is suspect. This mother is carrying PC to the nth degree. How sad to think of all the funny books she probably won't let her kids read. The next day the teacher sent an e-mail to me:
Most Banned Book of the Year
I met Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson in Chicago -- authors of the most banned book of this year-- And Tango Makes Three --
a picture book based on a true story about two male penguins, Roy and Silo, at the Central Park Zoo.
The fear of sharing this charming story about nurturing male penguins reminds me of a picture book by Charlotte Zolotow published in the '70's -- William's Doll-- and the brouhaha surrounding it. As if giving a boy a doll would turn him into a homosexual.
It makes me proud that on October 15 I will be giving the Charlotte Zolotow Lecture at University of Wisconsin. Maybe I'll start off by telling that story.
So celebrate! Read a challenged book. You'll find plenty to choose from.