A few more for the challenged books list

As the well-informed among you know, Banned Books Week began last Saturday, and continues on through this week. And Tango Makes Three, the true-to-life tale of two Central Park Zoo penguin males who hatched and still care for a penguin chick, topped the most challenged books list of 2006. Other LGBT-themed books among the Most Frequently Challenged books of 1990-2000 include Daddy’s Roommate, Heather Has Two Mommies, and Annie on My Mind. (Keeping those titles company are others like Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits, Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Richard Wright’s Native Son, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.)

The American Library Association notes that “parents challenge materials more often than any other group,” and that “challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.”

While such attempts may make some of us quite jittery about the state of democracy in our nation today, we must also concede that the freedom to gripe and kvetch, even to try to back seat drive other people’s brains, is as American as apple pie, baked in an industrial-type facility by underpaid workers with marginal health care and negligible retirement security.

It is in this hallowed tradition that I humbly offer up my own list of titles which I believe have been overlooked in the stampede to banish sundry literary classics and heartwarming tales of family diversity from the public imagination.

The Cat in the Hat, by some chap so afraid to be known to the public that he masqueraded under a pseudonym, Dr. Seuss. As if he was a real doctor. Basically this is about a totally out of control cat and his totally out of control “thing” friends. Gives kids the mistaken idea they can run rampant all over the house simply because their parents (oops!) their mother abandoned them for the day. And then it’s all abracadabra or what have you, and everything’s cleaned up. I, for one, resent that. If all the children across America took this nasty feline as their role model, bedlam would rule.

Curious George, by H.A. Rey. Basically this is about a totally out of control monkey, who gets himself into all manner of trouble by cravenly disregarding authority of every kind. “He was a good little monkey, but he was very curious.” As if that excuses anything. Eating too much spaghetti, painting things, soaping up rugs, riding on cows, sending a flotilla of newspaper boats down a river. If all the children across America took this little primate as their role model, havoc would rule.

Lassie, Come Home, by Eric Night. Basically this is about a totally out of control dog who runs away from the proper home of the rich person who bought him, fair and square. What kind of example is this for the children? That if you’re wrenched from your home Pippi Plays Tag With Some Policemenand sold off to someone else, you have some right to tramp your way across the countryside until you’re back “home”? Furthermore, in the film version, Roddy McDowall played the impoverished young boy to whom the dog Lassie returned. Everyone knows he turned out to be a poofter, so what kind of example is that for the little ones, should the book inspire them to see the film? That it’s perfectly all right to be an impoverished little British country boy who is going to grow up to be a fey actor? Not in my America.

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lingren. This red-headed orphan girl romps about and does as she pleases, accompanied by a little monkey named Mr. Nilssen and not a shred of decency. She does Curious George one better, and not only ignores, but is utterly contemptuous of authority. You doubt me? Consider exhibit A, the brazenly titled chapter, “Pippi Plays Tag With Some Policemen” (illustration above right). To make matters worse, Miss Longstocking possesses alarming upper body strength. If children adopted her attitude, and worked their pecs and delts and biceps and triceps to boot, anarchy would surely reign supreme.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, by Kate Douglas Wiggin. What do we do with this one? This urchin was sent to her “spinster aunts” for a proper lady-like education, and it’s nearly lost on her due to her “wild and zestful” nature. One or both of these “spinster aunts” could very well be lesbians (who are known to masquerade as “spinster aunts”), and for this reason alone (not to mention the unbridled spirit of the protagonist), the book should be kept out of all young girls’ hands.

The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. I’m not sure I need to go any further than to inimate that Margaret Wise Brown was once a habitué of the Isle of Lesbos, if you catch my drift (if you must know, it was a years-long affair with a woman who went by the name “Michael Strange,” the former wife of actor John Barrymore). But if you need more, I submit to you the simple plot line, in which a bunny is constantly trying to run away from his mother. What did she do to him? Nothing! All she wants to do is track him down to the ends of the earth, shape-shifting into whatever she possibly can — a fisherman, a rock, the wind — to nab the ungrateful wretch. Do you want to live in the kind of mother-hating world this book depicts? I didn’t think so.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter. And while we’re on the subject of feckless bunnies. This one thinks it’s perfectly fine to trample someone’s carefully tended vegetable garden, and he tops that with the audacity to resent the prospect of being made into a fine stew, or a pie, or some such (a fate that most appropriately befell his dad, who trampled before him). Where is the sense of morality in this tale? How will the children learn that their naughty behavior has its consequences? Such as being made into a pie?

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson. This light-in-the-loafers bull makes being a conscientious objector look attractive. Enough said.

7 thoughts on “A few more for the challenged books list”

  1. The book descriptions had me in stitches, but this line was my favorite: “the freedom to gripe and kvetch, even to try to back seat drive other people’s brains, is as American as apple pie, baked in an industrial-type facility by underpaid workers with marginal health care and negligible retirement security.” When you nail it, you really nail it. Thanks LD.

  2. Thank you, FemKnit! Nothing like hearing the sound of a friend chuckling.

    Tango Makes Three topped the small stack of “Happy Banned Books Week” gift books I forked over to our lil’ monkey’s preschool this morning. (Other titles: Mama Eat Ant, Yuck!; two Todd Parrs, ; Emma and Meesha My Boy: A Two Moms Story; and Who’s in a Family? The last one, she already had. And she met the gift bag with such warmth and gratitude. I’m thinking even if they feed her Twinkies and HoHo’s all day, it would be a fine place for her.

    And AllieG: you should hear a friend of ours wax on about that book, especially the creepy stalker aspect of the mom. Should note said friend is a mom of two. I wonder: how do you, as a homeschooler (as we seem to call ’em over here) choose your curriculum? How have you fine-tuned the family diversity material, now that you aren’t limited by what your kids do (and don’t) get in school? I may just find the right post of yours and ask this again over at Green House by the Sea.

  3. You should send this to the ALA. They’d LTAO just like I’m doing (quietly, so as not to wake up the munchkin who’s sleeping precariously on my chest [it’s the sleep, not the munchkin’s physical position, that’s precarious] even though it is 3:53 a.m. and there’s no earthly reason for her to be anything but deep in dreamland–maybe she is having nightmares about creepy stalker mommies, since the poor child has TWO, which I think rests the right-wing case, don’t you?).

    Anne of Green Gables is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm‘s equally subversive twin, though in this one there’s a “bachelor uncle” to go with the “spinster aunt.” A shy, soft-spoken bachelor uncle, nudge nudge wink wink.

    Beatrix Potter also gave us Tom Kitten, another disobedient child who leads his sisters in shedding all their clothes, and their mother is clearly their examplar in wickedness since her response is to lie unashamedly to her guests. And not content with undermining authority in Tom Kitten and Peter Rabbit, Potter topped herself with The Tale of Two Bad Mice, which winks at vandalism and lawlessness. These rodents riot and loot and are rewarded for it. What do you expect from a Unitarian.

    Man, the more I look the more I realize we’re going to have to sweep everything off the shelves, make a nice bonfire and restock. Do they still sell Dick and Jane?


  4. The Runaway Bunny has always freaked me out a little bit. The mother bunny makes me want to run away.

    I agree with you completely in regard to the Cat in the Hat. I say this because my 6 year old IS the Cat in the Hat. He’s always balancing on a ball and juggling and talking and…well…bedlam does indeed rule.

  5. We don’t have a curriculum as such, because we’re autonomous home educators – there isn’t much like school about what we do. The kids follow their interests. Daughter likes historical novels at the mo and son is deep in a Doctor Who passion. Doctor Who is wonderfully subversive in its current incarnation – worth a careful watch.

    We did have a very sweet little book called ‘Anna Day and the O Ring’ when the kids were little. It was the best we had because the family structure was entirely incidental to the (very simple) story. We had other books that were just dire in their clunky treatment of the ‘issue’. I’d defend such books from those that ban, of course, but IME our kids really want excellent fiction and not a book ‘to make a point’.

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