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Banned and Challenged Books Week: High School Banned Book Memory

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Wifey_book_coverBack before Snapchat and other similar services, girls passed around books with certain parts underlined in red. I blush to the roots to admit I participated in this with the book Wifey. To be honest I don’t remember much of this novel–just the giggling that went with it. And that she goes to a party with no panties on–only a tampon for “protection.” In 1978 or so that was pretty darned racy. No one talked about tampons and such in books. What did we learn from what is undoubtedly a pretty tame book today? We learned that temptation doesn’t get easier with age. That yes, our parents probably still “do” and yes, people older than us–whether parents or no, have to go out and find it just like teenagers! So you could say we gained insight into the world of adults. Wifey by Judy Blume.

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Banned and Challenged Books Week: A Surprise Favorite

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I freely admit it. I’m not a fan of science fiction or of fantasy. They just aren’t “me.” I’ve read some. I had to read Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy in Intro to International Relations (it shows neatly all the possible ways power can be distributed among nations, in case you were curious) and The Book of Three, for a fantasy example, wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t my thing. So it’s no surprise that I skipped Wrinkle in Time when I was in school in spite of being in the generation for whom it was written. I came to it after reading Madelleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals, which I was sad to learn later, her children consider largely fictional. Never mind.

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Wrinkle in Time caught my attention at the cream cheese and liverwurst sandwich with onion salt. Yes, you read that right. Early in the book Charles Wallace makes his mother such a sandwich (Meg opts out of the liverwurst in case you wondered) because it was so like my Mom. She had an annual liverwurst session and taught us to appreciate its richness.And cream cheese IS a gift from God. Onion salt, well, ok, Mom would have used real onion as I would today. And ours would be on really nice crackers.

It took FOOD to get me into a great read all because it is labeled “science fiction.” Labels do that to things–and to people, too. In Wrinkle the sci-fi was irrelevant to me. Here was a family where intellectual attainment mattered. Not the resume-building, grade-grubbing upper-class, suburban- Ivy-League-or-you-are-a-loser type “attainment,” but the real thing. Thought. Reading. Ideas. And appreciation of same. That kind of attainment. Here too was Meg, a girl like me–a girl who never fit in at school.  And,like my family, the father traveled. This would really have resonated with me in 5th or 6th grade because I missed my Dad when he was away (even though we had much better food when he was gone!).  But that label, “sci-fi,” got in the way.

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I enjoyed this book then, and it’s first sequel, as an adult. My son and I watched the movie version too, though of course it was a disappointment. Meg and Mrs. Murray are both taken seriously and Mrs. Murray does serious work. Charles Wallace looks up to his sister. All of this was HUGE in the children’s literature of the 1960s. I have often wondered if challengers to this book didn’t/don’t have as much to do with this fact as with the more obvious reasons–the Mrs. W’s and “IT” who is often challenged as a rival to God. Happily, kids are generally way brighter than the folks raising these challenges. They understand the fact that (pardon the pun) it’s all fiction. Imagination. Not real. They don’t confuse “IT” with God anymore than they think Spiderman has the same powers as God (though our long-ago Christian school disallowed all things superhero for that reason).

I hope students today can be left in peace to read this great book–sans labels. In an era in which Common Core is taking away fiction for such stimulating reading as EPA reports, and in which the acronym STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering & Math] is everywhere, I fear the label will be even more prominent. In our era of bludgeoning others over our beliefs and of being offended by everything, I’m sure, too, that there will be more challenges to this book. All of that is a shame. Wrinkle in Time is simply an outstanding book. It’s not too late. Read it now if you skipped it as a kid. You won’t be sorry.

On minor criticism–don’t go for the author reads the book audio version. Sadly, she was not an enjoyable reader. Let a professional read the words if you want an audio version.

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Banned and Challenged Books Week: My second beloved book

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It’s funny, but in spite of there being no homeschooling and only the beginnings of a Christian School in town, I don’t know that ANY parent seriously challenged a book assigned in class. “But Wait! Things were simple and wholesome in the public schools of the 70s!” True, we had openly lesbian gym teachers who bought a house in our neighborhood with no one protesting and a few Moms even took casseroles over to welcome them. But in terms of books there was quite a lot to protest if you look at the times. For example–integration and busing were huge topics–and many parents did move or put their children in a private school if they could afford to do so. My small town near a college campus saw public housing integrated by two African American families and a family from India bought a house in our district–the father was a professor at the University. The son endured a lot–he was named Sirhan and Bobby Kennedy’s murder was fresh in people’s minds.

Now, too, we were seeing images of African Americans in our text books [sadly, these were often “white” faces that had been “colored” …sigh….]. While certain words had never been allowed in school, teachers corrected us anew to not say other words that had once been considered “correct” or “polite.”  For me this was not new–my father was very liberal and did not allow talk like that. Some people in my extended family did not like that, but we were taught to respect and value everyone.

Suddenly we were reading books like Soundermy school and most local schools had a field trip to go see the movie at a special showing for elementary schools. I remember being affected by Sounder–it was a depressing book in the right way–you felt for the characters in it.Children understand injustice even if they can’t put it into words. I remember being unsettled by the events in the book–wanting to know why? and how could they? And, being a pet-lover, I cried for Sounder, too.

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The emotions this book evoked helped me to grow up, to dislike wrong and value right. The bad helped me to understand why the Golden Rule should guide us in life (and I came from a non-religious family).

For the record, I have on two occasions asked that my children not be made to read a certain book. I asked that because for one child it brought on PTSD and for the other my child was singled out for being “an orphan.” Both children, then in grades 5 and 3, read other books with another class. At no time did I seek to have the book removed from the curriculum or banned in any way. My children endured a lot before they came to me–they didn’t need to relive it. Sadly, this is the case with much of the literature today. There are many, many children who NEED to see the “other side.” But there are those who have lived that an need to see the other positive side.

My children went on to read other “relevant” “gritty” books with no problem and in many ways they were strengthened and helped by them. Those “other” realistic books were therapeutic. I have no idea why the one book caused problems but all the others did not. The “orphan” thing was a well-meaning teacher who over-stepped sense and sensibility and singled my child out before the whole class–my child was understandably upset at being asked what it was like to be an orphan!

Banned and Challenged Books Week is not about one parent or student asking for a different assignment. Few would ever debate that. It’s about seeking to deny access to books for ALL. Objecting to content on behalf of ALL students.

Wayne State College has a nice visual list of banned books. You can view it here.

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Banned and Challenged Books Week: My first challenged book!

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As a kid I wasn’t a big reader. I did love to have my Mom read to me though. In Middle School I finally became a reader. My Mom read good literature to me and my older brother and we both became life-long readers. My parents never censored what we read–my brother read the Godfather in 7th or 8th grade and went on to read other books that have been challenged. I read Gone With the Wind and the Winds of War in Middle School along with a few Bruce Catton titles on the Civil War. My Mom choose books for me sometimes–Eric by Doris Lund is still a favorite of mine, but she chose it. One book my Mom bought for me shows up on numerous banned or challenged book lists. It is the first such that I recall reading: A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck. It was newly out in paperback so I’m guessing the year was probably 1974–the summer before 7th grade. A neighbor read it–I can still recall this, and said she had thought it was something about the Bay of Pigs!

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An odd story for a mother to pick for a girl who loves animals? Maybe. Maybe she “didn’t think it through!” Who knows. What stays with me was the rather gross scene of Robert’s mother (or someone) picking nuts out of the stomach of a slaughtered animal–a squirrel if I remember correctly, and using them on a cake!! Not something done in suburbia, you can be sure of that!

Let’s be frank here–I can understand why some parents would not be in favor of this book. But, as I always say, ask for an alternative assignment for your child and ask that they not be in the room when this book is being discussed. The merits of this book are Peck’s great prose, his vivid characters and scenes. Children today do not equate food with the killing of animals unless its the silly “I don’t eat things with faces” sort of comment. This book would, therefore, be educational and could be a good spark to a serious discussion on all aspects of food security, ethics and farming.

A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck.