Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Sunday Salon: On Banned Books I've Known, Loved, and (gasp!) Read to My Kids

Funny, I never thought my high school teachers in my suburban town were the daring type.

Or the English professors who taught me at my Catholic college.

But apparently, they were all pretty dangerous people.

I know this because September 26-October 3 is Banned Books Week, and in looking at the lists of books that have been challenged or outright banned, I've determined that my mind is officially corrupted. I'm also a pretty lousy parent, because I've been known to read with my kids each night and ... (hangs head in shame) according to this list of challenged children's books, I've read them a banned book or two.

Or three.

I've read my kids poems from Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic.

Oh, and I've also read them In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. (And blogged about it, too. I guess that means The Betty and Boo Chronicles should be on the banned reading list. I'm OK with that.)

I say all this with my usual heaping spoonful of sarcasm and snark, of course, but Banned Books Week is really a serious topic. I happened to be watching that adorable Muppets video floating around the blogosphere and Betty and Boo immediately came over to see what was going on. I explained that they were tossing out books that they didn't like, for one reason or another, which would mean that nobody would be able to read them.

They were genuinely appalled. And I was proud.

It made me think of that recent piece that has gotten so much play among us bloggers, the one I read in the August 30 New York Times about how one Georgia schoolteacher allows her 7th and 8th grade students to choose their own books rather than be subject to a required list.

So many of the books that I read for high school and college assignments are ones that have been challenged or outright banned.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

(incidentally, To Kill a Mockingbird is mentioned in the NYT piece as one of the books that Ms. McNeill, the Georgia schoolteacher, is not teaching this year because ("when I do ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,” I know that I have some kids that just don’t get into it.”)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

(Yes, Charlotte's Web, for God sakes. It's in good company, though, with A.A. Milne's classic Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.)

Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

I wonder how many of these I would have picked up on my own, had my teachers and professors not assigned them or made me write papers about them.

A few, maybe, but definitely not every book on this list.

So as we celebrate Banned Books Week, I'm feeling very grateful to those who forced me to read books that made me think. Books that changed me. Books that make me want to read them with my kids and to have on our family's bookshelves for when they are older.

And for instilling whatever quality that is that makes me look at the books I haven't read on the banned books list and making me want to read them, too.

(Watch the Muppet video about banned books here. Then show it to a kid you love.)


Infant Bibliophile said...

Wonderful post. I love that your kids understood the video (and that you took the time to explain it to them in a way that makes sense). I hadn't read that Winnie the Pooh was on there. Where's Waldo is my favorite wacky addition to the list. I loved Shel Silverstein when I was younger and plan to reread those thing week too. I can't wait until my son is old enough to enjoy A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. fyi, here are my thoughts on banning books:

beastmomma said...

Turns out that I have also read a lot of Banned Books which is surprising. I do not think that I would have picked up or read as many banned books if I had not been forced to by teachers or professors as well.

Gavin said...

Great post! It's amazing how many classics and children's books have been banned or challenged. Thanks for the Muppet link.

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

In perusing the "banned books" list, I was appalled at how many wonderful books had made that list!

But then again, to those who censor books, the criteria for doing so has nothing to do with the quality of a book, in terms of literary value.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there are still those narrow-minded people out there, trying to tell us what to do and what to read!

Literary Feline said...

It always amazes me, the books that people challenge and want to ban and the reasons why.

K a b l o o e y said...

Multiple Things:
1. This was such a terrific and important post. And you, of course, made it personal and funny and a pleasure to read (and watch; go Muppets!)
2. Shel Silverstein? Really? Charlotte's Web? And yeah, To Kill a Mockingbird, that one sucks. And "racism is bad" -- that's a controvercial message all right. So, so sad. Not to mention all the others on that list that are just terrific books as well.
3. My word verification is "armove" which is how the shy guy first tries to touch his date when he slides his arm behind her seat to set up the hand-to-shoulder drop-move.
4. I'm definitely going to link to this post, so stop by and see. Is it OK if I also put up the Muppets video? I'm linking no matter what but will wait re: the video.

Care said...

Three cheers for intellectual freedom!

Lisa said...

I was gonna ask for a link to the video, I haven't seen it. Will have to watch when I get home.

I haven't done a banned books post, I should.