This week is Banned Books Week and I wish I could say that no picture books are ever banned but sadly that is not the case . Parents are by far the most frequent challengers and school libraries are by far the most frequent place to make a challenge. I hope no matter what your personal feelings about a book may be that you are as outraged as I am that books are still being banned in this day and age. I know that some of you aren’t comfortable reading some or maybe all of these books with your kids and as a parent you get to make the rules at your house for your family and I respect that. We are all capable of setting rules for our own families that fit with our own boundaries but banning books from schools and libraries is not the answer. That one book that you may disagree with may be the one book that sparks a love of reading and learning for a child .
The Sissy Ducklingby Harvey Fierstein is a lovely book. As a mom to a son I worry about him getting teased when he is older if he isn’t into sports, or likes to bake cookies more than play video games. This book address that, in a cute but frank way. I especially love how the dad isn’t super happy that his son is into more traditionally girly things. I think that even though we hope that all parents would be immediately supportive the reality is, that parents are human too and acceptance can take time even when there is lots of love. ETA: Now that my son is almost 6 and very into sports and very into pretty much everything that is stereotypically “boy” I use this book to teach him the other side. To see that all people are unique and to respect everyone for that uniqueness not for their ability to fit some societal mold.
So why was it banned? The reasons given were gay positive themes. As you will see that is unfortunately a recurrent theme on this short list.
The Family Book by Todd Parr is a book that doesn’t give readers a narrow definition of family , it doesn’t say that your family has to look a certain way, or be the same as your neighbors. As a teacher I really appreciated the matter of fact way it embraced diversity. Kids see that families are not all like theirs and it’s important to validate the truth while recognizing that while they may not all look alike, all families are made with love. Great book , cute illustrations and children love it.
This book wasn’t banned 10 years ago it was just recently banned from use for an elementary school curriculum about diversity, tolerance and bullying. It was banned from a curriculum about tolerance. Am I the only one who sees the irony? The issue was with it’s pages that state that some families have 2 moms and some have 2 dads. It makes me sad that some children who do have 2 moms or 2 dads won’t get a chance to see their family reflected in this bright, fun and diverse book.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson is a much debated book. It’s the true story of two male penguins in central park zoo who didn’t have any interest in the girl penguins but definitely liked each other. When the zoo keepers noticed that they were in every way a matched pair they also noticed that they prepared for a baby just like the other penguins. Time after time they were sad until they were given an egg to care for. Just like all families love and care is what matters when creating a family and baby Tango and his two daddies have thrived . My son loved this book and asked me to please go see the penguins when I was in NYC. I didn’t have time to but I wish I had. Their story simplifies a very debated topic and I think it’s a great book not only to explain how all families are different but also how love and care are really what makes a family even for penguins.
This picture book was the most frequently challenged and banned book of 2010, 2008, 2007 and 2006. A true story about a family of penguins. Wow.
In the Night Kitchen (Caldecott Collection) by Maurice Sendak is one of the many books I remember exactly where I was when I first read it ; Coquitlam Public Library sitting in the shag carpeted row boat amazed that the main character Mickey had no clothes . Which is exactly why it got banned.
First let me tell you about the story if you have never read it. Mickey falls out of bed and into the night kitchen where the bakers try to bake him and ultimately he saves the day and falls back into bed and back to sleep. For me this story is about power and freedom and how kids don’t get to feel that day to day but free from reality at night in their sleep they can. Even as a little girl giggling at the pictures in the book I read the words and felt the freedom from being little that Mikey felt. When I read it to my son he giggled and giggled at Mickey’s body. I was sorta hoping he’d be more mature than I was at 5, we always expect the best from our kids right? Like me he still got the heart of the story and even expressed that Mickey was naked because he was dreaming and got to do whatever he wanted.
So why was is banned? That whole lack of clothing issue really upset a lot of people. So much so that it’s been in the top 25 banned books for decades.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig is a book many of you may recognize from your own childhood . I remember the sweet story from my own. Sylvester is a little donkey who finds a magic pebble and after discovering that it grants wishes he makes a terrible mistakes and turns himself into a rock. As a rock he is unable to wish himself back into a donkey and is left to sit silently while his parents are frantic, search and finally grieve. Sylvester almost gives up himself until by chance his parents come across his rock and the magic pebble and he is turned back into his “true self”. My son loved the story and I loved how when we talked about it he expressed so much empathy for Sylvester and his parents. The obvious message that you have to be careful what you wish for is a powerful one for kids learning about consequences. The other messages which for us were the more important ones were that family bonds can break through anything and that no matter what even if he is a rock I would never give up on him.
Now it sounds like a great book right? It is. So why was it banned? When Sylvester goes missing his parents go to the police who are portrayed as pigs. All the characters are animals and my son didn’t make the connection because he’s never in his life heard anyone refer to police officers as pigs. I thought it was tongue in cheek but in 1977 it was enough to get banned.
Would you ban these books?
Melissa Taylor from Imagination Soup has great posts about banned books and self censorship and an Open Letter To Parents That Ban Books In My Libraries on Parenting.com that I encourage you to read .