Saturday, October 4, 2008

Talking to kids about banned books

As Banned Books Week comes to a close, I can't help but notice that I haven't actually written several of the posts I had planned for this week. Instead, I've been spending the week writing an outline of my novel for a class I'm taking, and writing and re-writing my homework email to the teacher.

I did have conversations with my kids about Banned Book Week, which were fascinating at the time, but the written version? Decidedly uninteresting. We talked about each of the books we've read together which are on the list of frequently challenged books. If they had said the books had a strong impact on their lives one way or the other, that would have made a meaningful post. If they had said, "What?! Why would anyone challenge that?" it would have been interesting.

Instead they said things like, "I can understand why because some people don't want the idea of people being naked. Or maybe they don't like the idea of people falling in cookie batter." (Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen, which shows Mickey falling through the floor in a dream, ending up naked in a giant bowl of batter with giant chefs stirring him up) And, "There was something about an evil eye, maybe people thought it was disturbing to have a giant eyeball that was controlling people's minds." (Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time)

When I asked if they were glad they'd read these challenged books, I got answers like, "No, it was too sad at the end" (The Bridge to Terabithia), "No, it was boring. No action." (A Wrinkle in Time) and my favorite, "All those books are the same" (It's Perfectly Normal, a book about the facts of life).

They are glad to have read Harry Potter.

In honor of Banned Books Week we've been reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Ben is reading Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak.

And I'll close this post with a tribute to some of the challenged books I read as a teen which had an impact on my writing or on who I grew up to be. Thank you, librarians and teachers in 1980s Madison, Wisconsin, for keeping these books accessible:
The Catcher in the Rye Go Ask Alice A Separate Peace (assigned)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest(assigned) Gone With The WindForever


  1. I read every single one of your teen books as a teen myself!

    It's interesting that your kids didn't find most of the banned books they read worthwhile reads. I wonder how many banned books would have faded into obscurity if their banning hadn't excited curiosity about them.

  2. Good point, Dewey!

    But also, you never know about my kids--in a few years they may have a different perspective on the benefits of some of the books. For example, the 1970's "how babies are made" book that had been on my bookshelf from a young age? Suddenly took on a whole new meaning when I hit puberty.