Sunday, October 5, 2008

Don't Read That Book!

...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.

Ban Fudge?
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:

"My daughter was assigned your book, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, to read and write a report on. I am appalled by the fact that you had a child swallow a turtle; had the parents not care whatever about the older child's loss of a pet; and then had the father replace the animal with a puppy, with the whole family treating the episode as a joke. Perhaps when you wrote this in 1972, it seemed funny. However, children are now aware of animal's rights and that pets (even reptiles) feel pain and fear. Improper supervision of a 2.5 year old child is another matter, especially in light of the fact that the child was known to be out of control in the first place.
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:

Judy -- Recently, I was shocked to hear one parent voice dismay over the silly antics of a toddler and his brother. I have boys and have been around as a teacher of them for 15 years, and I know similar things happen. Your hilarious books have inspired many very reluctant/ non readers to transform into literature butterflies in front of my eyes. I will continue to read them and have them available. Keep writing, no one can get into the mind of little ones like yourself. The parent sent me a copy of an email she sent you, and believe me, she was alone, the other parents love the book, and remember your work fondly. They were excited I was using it for Literacy Circles, as the parents always are. Please, I am a big fan, doesn't matter how many times I read your books with the children, I still laugh out loud and wipe the tears away as we take turns reading. I remove books for nobody, especially classics!!

Now that's a teacher I want to hug! She's not going to allow a parent to bully her into removing a book. She deserves our thanks and appreciation. The kids in her class are lucky. They'll remember her fondly, I'm sure.

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.