It’s Banned Books Week and today I want to share with you some banned books we have reviewed and enjoyed. When I wrote an article over at Scholastic Parents this week about banned books and how I use them to teach my children lessons the response was overwhelmingly positive but what struck me was how shocked so many people were that books still get banned. The first step to banning is challenging a book and the most common people making challenges are parents. I get that parents want to protect their kids and discuss issues with them when they decide to but I simply can’t see banning a book from other people’s children as the answer.
This summer I published a list of picture books that include families with gay and lesbian parents and I lost a few dozen Facebook followers , a number of email subscribers and fielded some pretty brutal comments about me and my children. I expected it. I know that the world has many viewpoints and not everyone shares mine. So after you browse the books below tell me how would you want these books handled? Are you in favor of free access like I am? Restricting access? All out banning?All book lists include affiliate links.
Animalia by Graeme Base is iconic in teaching circles, you can lose yourself for hours in the detailed illustrations. The book is an alphabet book on steroids! Each page had a wonderful paragraph in each letter such as for the letter L “Lazy Lions lounging in the local library.” The pages are filled to the gills with pictures of things that start with that letter as well. Parents and kids alike will fall in love!
Why was it banned or challenged? It was challenged at a school library in Texas for violence and horror. This surprised me because I have a seriously low threshold for horror and I have never been bothered at all, neither have the approximately 150 kids I have read it to over the years.
Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle is often not read in classrooms simply because of a depiction of a naked man and woman. It’s not what most parents expect to find in an Eric Carle book but it is very fitting in this beautiful and really touching book. The story although very similar to a biblical creation story isn’t necessarily reflective only of a Christian viewpoint, rather as I read it is was the author’s own creation. It begins and ends with a star, and hits all the right points in between.
Why was it banned or challenged? Banned because of nude depiction of a man.
King and King by Linda de Haan is a fairytale and a funny one at that. The queen is old and cranky and wants her son to take over the kingdom but he must be married to do so. He tells her he’s not really into princesses but Mama doesn’t take the hint. After finding fault with every princess presented to him he falls in love at first sight with a prince and they live happily ever after. I like the whimsical illustrations and my kids thought the prince was funny. My son thought the book had a twist at the end with the princes falling in love, but just like the queen in the story, there was no debate over why. I like that this book uses the familiar fairytale structure to make an important statement about the existence of same-sex marriage and can be a great ice breaker to talk about it with your kids.
Why was it banned or challenged? Banned and often restricted to adults because of the depiction of gay marriage.
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.
Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray is a story about a dog with really bad gas but a really loving family. The book does talk a lot about farting but it’s really about unconditional love. Kids love it, will giggle through it and it has a way with kids that don’t call themselves readers. I talk more about the power of potty humor in this article for Scholastic Parents.
Why was it challenged? Challenged but retained for the use of the words fart and farting repeatedly throughout the text.
Heather Has Two Mommies by LeslÃ©a Newman was widely banned when it was first released. It is probably the best-known picture book about a family with same-sex parents. When you read it the first thing you will probably think is that it doesn’t live up to the banning. I always imagine banned books to be truly out there and this book is about a family with a doctor, a carpenter, and their daughter. Heather is starting a new school and she is nervous and exploring all the possibilities of what a family looks like just as her classmates are. She recognizes that her family is different but not less than. The illustrations are black and white and a little dated but the story is on the right track.
Why was it banned or challenged? Banned because of its acceptance of lesbian mothers raising a child.
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.
Why was this book banned or challenged? 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 its pages that state that some families have two moms and some have two dads. It makes me sad that some children who do have two moms or two 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. Its 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 zookeepers 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 New York City. 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.
Why was this book banned or challenged? 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.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling . My husband has just started reading book 2 in this series to my son at bedtime and they are hooked! They finished the first book a few months ago and we took a break before book 2. I love the whole Harry Potter series and it hasn’t been without much discussion between my husband and me on how we are going to space out the books. If you have read them you know that the subjects age and mature as the characters do by a school year with each book. I encourage parents to read any book that they are going to share with their young kids first to make sure it won’t scare or upset your child as well as to make sure it fits with your family. What I love so much about these books is that JK Rowling has created such a thick and detailed world and it grips even kids that don’t normally get into books as much as it does little bookworms!
Why was it challenged and banned? People get really upset about witch craft and if you google “Harry Potter Banned” you will get recent articles and blog posts promoting it’s banning. Really.
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.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak probably doesn’t need an introduction especially with the current film adaptation. We read this book often and my son randomly quotes the book throughout the day. Telling me to “Be still” just like Max tells the Wild Things. If by chance you are not familiar with this book, it’s a story of a little boy Max who is sent to his room for being wild and his imagination turns it into another world, filled with Wild Things and freedom from rules for behavior. Ultimately though Max’s heart pulls him back home where he is loved most of all, even when he’s wild.
So why was it banned or challenged? It was challenged widely because of its inclusion of “witchcraft and supernatural elements.” Guess those are my things because I adore this book and the whole Harry Potter series that has also been banned and challenged for these reasons.
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 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.
Daddy’s Roommate by Micheal Willhoite is a little different from the other books in this list in that the child in the book has a mommy, a daddy,and daddy also has a roommate. The book was written in 1990 and even though we don’t often hear “roommate” as a euphemism for partner or boyfriend anymore but in 1990 is was probably more common. That aside the book does a good job of explaining what this little boy’s life is like. Bug catching, reading, scary dreams – it’s pretty average stuff but he has three adults to care for him. I also like that the boy’s parents are divorced which will be something many readers will connect with. The book’s explanation of what gay means is really simple and perfect for the book’s audience. I do think that the pictures are dated but I don’t think kids will pick up on that as much as adults will.
Why was it banned or challenged? It is one of the most banned books because of its gay subject matter.
So what would you do with these books? How would you talk about them or restrict them from your child?