Opting to read banned books
We giggled through the antics of fourth-graders George and Harold as they conspired against their mean school principal. I’d try to keep a straight face while reading dialogue in a character voice: “Help! Wedgie Woman is in the teacher’s lounge. She just drank all the coffee and now she’s giving the gym teacher a wedgie!”
I’d rather have been reading a children’s poetry book by Jack Prelutsky than such raunchy humor. I’d hoped my kids would learn to love words as I did while listening to the sounds melding together rhythmically as I read them poems, but poetry ultimately failed to engage my kids. Instead, my son was so fascinated by “Captain Underpants” that he began creating his own series of comic books. He spent hours drawing and writing the stories of “Captain Hypnotizing Man” and “Adventures of Super Dog” on plain printer paper, stapling or taping his creations together. Soon, my daughter was also composing and stapling together her own picture books.
This burst of creativity in my home occurred as Dav Pilkey’s series topped the list of books most frequently targeted for censorship in 2012. I didn’t know it at the time, but complaints tallied by the American Library Assn.’s Office for Intellectual Freedom cited offensive language and inappropriate material for the age range as reasons why people requested that “Captain Underpants” be pulled from schools and libraries. These were among 464 complaints lodged against books in the U.S. that year.
A few years ago, a parent in my Southern California neighborhood complained on a community Facebook page that a book her kid had borrowed from the elementary school library contained mature themes inappropriate for young kids. She posted photos of book pages. Parents complained. Some demanded that the book be removed from library shelves. One mom offered a sure solution: Report the book as lost, then burn the book.
We parents should realize that we won’t always know which books are best for our kids. I found that out the day my son brought home “Captain Underpants,” a book I would’ve never picked out on my own. Yet these puerile comic books helped my kids develop their reading and writing skills. “Captain Underpants” led to “Magic Tree House” books, which led to the “Harry Potter” series, which led to “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
Certainly, parents should have the right to choose the books their kids read. But parents calling for books they find offensive to be pulled from library shelves, or to be permanently removed from the curriculum, are claiming overly broad rights. They’re deciding what all kids can read, not just their own kids. And these days, it’s not just parents demanding book bans. Elected officials, political activists and religious groups are also clamoring for censorship.
What is the learning loss for kids deprived of books that can connect them to the joys of learning? What is the cultural loss for kids who won’t see themselves regularly depicted in books, or see people different from themselves humanized through the art of storytelling? Banning books causes an infinite ripple of losses for society. And often it starts with just one parent, just one book.
— Minerva Canto,
a member of the editorial board