As I’m sure you’re heard, this week is Banned Books Week. I shared a crazy Wall Street Journal editorial on the subject the other day on Twitter, and Neil Gaiman linked to it today, as well as to a rebuttal (a “sane reply” in his words) at the Huffington Post. But of the many links being shared this week — and there are a ton, many well worth a read and/or your emotions — one of the best is, I think, this interactive map showing the last few years’ Book Bans and Challenges as per the ALA. Rexroth’s advice? “Don’t just read a banned book, read one banned in your area.”
So I clicked on Colorado to see what books have been challenged, and came across this impassioned and brilliant response to a library patron in Castle Rock who requested a book be removed because of homosexual content (a subject of particular interest, considering what Maureen Johnson has gone through with The Bermudez Triangle):
You say that the book is inappropriate, and I infer that your reason is the topic itself: gay marriage. I think a lot of adults imagine that what defines a children’s book is the subject. But that’s not the case. Children’s books deal with anything and everything. There are children’s books about death (even suicide), adult alcoholism, family violence, and more. Even the most common fairy tales have their grim side: the father and stepmother of Hansel and Gretel, facing hunger and poverty, take the children into the woods, and abandon them to die! Little Red Riding Hood (in the original version, anyhow) was eaten by the wolf along with granny. There’s a fascinating book about this, by the bye, called “The Uses of Enchantment: the Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales,” by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. His thesis is that both the purpose and power of children’s literature is to help young people begin to make sense of the world. There is a lot out there that is confusing, or faintly threatening, and even dangerous in the world. Stories help children name their fears, understand them, work out strategies for dealing with life. In Hansel and Gretel, children learn that cleverness and mutual support might help you to escape bad situations. In Little Red Riding Hood, they learn not to talk to big bad strangers. Of course, not all children’s books deal with “difficult issues,” maybe not even most of them. But it’s not unusual.