By Jeanne Sager
It's an idea that sounds medieval at best, but banning books still happens in America all too often. Which is why the writers at Babble's Strollerderby decided to honor the American Library Association's Banned Books Week celebration with a study of some of the books ending up on the list. From Shel Silverstein's poetry from the '60s to the tale of two penguins banned most for the past two years, we take a look inside a book:
His A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk EndsThe Giving Tree one of the first hardcovers I bought for my daughter's library. But Shel Silverstein is one of the authors whose books have been repeatedly yanked from the shelves of local libraries. were my first introductions to poetry, his
Which is not to say that I hesitated a second when I placed them on my daughter's shelves. In fact, the reasons two of his books have been censored in America top publisher Harper Collins' list of the Top Ten Silly Reasons to Ban a Harper Collins Children's Book delve right into silly themselves.
A one-time Playboy cartoonist, Silverstein is a scary looking guy - I'll give you that. I've been tempted to remove the book jackets from all four of his titles before letting my daughter take them to bed (as she likes to do with her books - kind of reminds me of her mother). But I still refuse to judge a book by its cover, even one with a bald-headed guy with a full beard and some strange wooly thing wrapped around his neck.
Because inside, his books of poetry are full of hilarious nonsense. There are few rhymes and plenty of made-up-words. There are simple line drawings paired with poems that let kids explore the questions they're dying to ask, from why a babysitter doesn't sit on the baby to what you'll find where the sidewalk ends. In fact Silverstein pretends every child's dream can come true, which is why I remember late nights with my books of poetry in bed as a kid, giggling over the mustache grown 100 inches long just so you won't have to use a rope or board for your tree swing.
So what was so awful about his books? On page 12, A Light in the Attic "encourages children to break dishes so they won't have to dry them" according to the folks at the Cunningham Elementary School in Beloit, Wisconsin back in 1985. Oh, the horrors. In fact, the poem How Not To Have To Dry The Dishes is like most of Silverstein's itty bitty ditties. It's a total of eight lines about an "awful, boring chore." A chore, he supposes, "maybe they won't let you" do anymore, if you drop one of the dishes on the floor. Which I'm sure the kids will be debating once they finish considering the poem on the facing page - how someone could have possibly stolen someone's knees.
Apparently Silverstein should steer clear of Wisconsin. Where the Sidewalk Ends was pulled from the shelves at West Allis-West Milwaukee, Wis. school libraries (1986) because the book "suggests drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for legitimate authority, rebellion against parents." Shhhhh. Don't tell the kids there's real life beyond these four walls. Of course the poem Dreadful from Sidewalk really takes the cake, or should we say the flesh? A mention that "someone ate the baby," prompted people at the Central Columbia School District in Bloomsburg, Pa. to yank Sidewalk, lest children be encouraged to consider cannibalism. This was in 1993, folks.
I'm willing to risk my daughter's rebellion, the fact that she may one day want to take a bite out of my arm and a broken dish or two in favor of some creativity and the fact that she likes a book enough to take it to bed. Come to think of it, maybe it's time to introduce her to Silverstein's contribution to class rock and roll. You know, life ain't easy for a boy named Sue.
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