Beloved Children's Books Once Banned
It's Banned Books Week — Learn More at Your Library
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This week is Banned Books Week, an annual event coordinated by the American Library Association (ALA). During this observance, the ALA reminds us that the freedom to read any and all published works is a battle that has been fought for centuries and is one we continue to fight. Our freedom to read is an American cornerstone that provides us with the opportunity to learn and be exposed to thoughts, facts, ideas and creative musings from all corners of the Earth.
To illustrate the importance of our freedom to read and drive home the point of Banned Books Week, I reached out to my husband, a teen librarian, for some titles you might recognize. Although you might be shocked that these books all share one distinctive commonality — they have all been banned for inappropriate content.
"Draw Me a Star" by Eric Carle
Banned Library reports a Houston, Texas elementary school banned this cycle-of-life children's story for sexual content and nude illustration. It was ranked number 61 on "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books" for 2000-2009.
"Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss
According to the New York Public Library, this sing-songy classic was banned in Maoist China from 1965 — five years after it was first published — until Theodor Seuss Geisl's death in 1991. The ban was put in place due to its "portrayal of early Marxism."
"James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl
On the Banned Library's list of banned books, this children's favorite, which we've enjoyed in print, on the silver screen and on stage, was banned as recently as 1999 in four states: the word "ass" caused it to be banned in a Texas elementary school; Indian River County, Florida banned it because of its mystical element; it was banned in Wisconsin because of sexual content — the spider licking her lips; and a Toledo, Ohio book store owner banned it because it advocated communism.
"The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein
A Reading Partners blog notes that this popular, award-winning book was banned in Colorado in 1988. Those who advocated for its removal argued it was sexist. To arrive at this conclusion, it was suggested the tree symbolized a female and the male character simply continued to take and take without ever giving anything in return, until the female tree had nothing left to give.
"Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak
Published in 1963 and the recipient of the 1964 Caldecott Medal, this classic stirred up a fair amount of controversy. According to FavoriteBannedBooks.com, the book was heavily banned in the Southern US when it was first published. Scary illustrations that could promote nightmares, abusively sending a child to bed without supper and the portrayal of a tantrum have all been cited as reasons for the backlash.
While we have the right to read what we choose in this country, there are still groups that challenge educational institutions, book stores and even libraries to remove books based on content that does not align with their beliefs or doctrines. As parents, we can read with our children and use the material as a gateway for teachable moments about our own family values. Some of what we read will not be in line with our core values — but that is actually a good thing. How do you explain good without the contrast of bad? How do you explain happy without the contrast of sad?
Books challenge us to think and understand, reach and hope, dream and create. That's something my husband and I are simply not willing to restrict in our household.