Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Emmett's First Banned Books Week

It came to my attention yesterday that September 25-October 2 is Banned Books week, and I realized that I wanted to celebrate it by reading some controversial books to Emmett. We started reading to Emmett even before he was born and we try to read a number of books with him every day. I've noticed that picture books with rhyming language tend to work well with him at the moment.

Most of the books that were familiar to me as banned books are ones that are a little old for him (but will be good for future Banned Books weeks), so I had to google to get some suggestions of banned picture books. One of the first titles I ran across was The Lorax, which was perfect for us...I have at least two copies of it and I practically can recite it by heart. So we read that yesterday morning after listening to a brief audio excerpt from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, another apparently controversial book.

Later the same day, I was at Elaine's house and I took the opportunity to read Where the Wild Things Are to both of our boys. Maurice Sendak is a good example of how the coolest writers tend to have stuff on the "most common banned books" lists. The controversy usually just makes me want to read the books more. This was certainly the case with a more recently-published book called And Tango Makes Three, which I'd heard had something to do with gay penguins. I checked to see if the big local public library had it (I love the fact that we can do these searches online), but both copies were signed out. I was disappointed until I reflected on how cool it was that my town had multiple copies of the book and that it was in demand. Luckily one of the branch libraries had it, so I signed it out last night and read it to Emmett and Adam before Adam went off to work today.

And I just have to say...I love this book! It's a great story, based on a real male penguin couple, and is just adorable and touching and sweet. OK, so the two male penguins are in love, but it's not as though the book discusses them having hot gay penguin sex or anything. They swim together, sing penguin songs to one another, and eventually raise a baby penguin. However, the thing about book banning is that it's usually based on fairly stupid reasoning. Take the example of the other book I signed out yesterday: William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Apparently the objection to it was that police were pictured as pigs. OK, first of all: all of the characters are animals. Second, the pig policeman is on one page only (and there's another pig in the book who's just a regular old neighbor).

One of our next reading selections was a book called The Rabbits' Wedding by Garth Williams. Williams did the illustrations for the classic editions of the Little House on the Prarie books, for Charlotte's Web, and for many other books. I hadn't realized that there was a book that he'd both written and illustrated. The Rabbits' Wedding is a lovely story about two rabbits who have a down-to-earth, non-bridezilla outdoor wedding and then live happily ever after playing Hop Skip and Jump Me, Find the Acorn, and Jump Through the Daisies. Nothing controversial about that, right? The controversy exists because one rabbit is white and the other is black.

Although Emmett is too young to fully understand the books we're reading, I'm sort of glad that he's also too young to ask questions like, "Why was this book banned?" for which my answer would be something like. "People are idiots. Well, some people."

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