Corde and I just started reading the Junie B. Jones books. She and I are reading them independently and talking about them afterwards. In reading the reviews on GoodReads I found out that some parents are strongly against these books. I did a little more reading and found that these are on the top 100 banned/challenged books of 2000-2009.
I guess I can almost get where these parents are coming from. Junie B. is a nightmare of a child with a significantly bad attitude. She’s got horrible grammar and mispronounces a lot of things. She’s not exactly a role model for kids but books aren’t always about setting a good example. Books shouldn’t have to be of a purely educational nature. Sometimes some good, humorous fun is what we’re really looking for. Why should kids be any different?
I’ll use myself as an example. I like reading books like Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter. I often call this “candy reading”. It’s like a sweet desert and equally as addictive. I spend most of the sections laughing so hard I can barely manage to read them aloud to my boyfriend, even if I’ve already read through it a couple of times. If you were to take that book as serious and educational you’d think author was completely insane. Her life would be filled with nothing but yarn that she dotes on nightly, sweaters with mismatched arms, yarn bursting out of every seam of her house, and insanity based obsessions with double pointed needles (or DPNs). However, the book isn’t meant to be taken that way at all. It’s funny and every reader who reads the book can identify with at least some of the stories, or if you’re like me, most of them.
At the same time, knitters everywhere aren’t running screaming in terror from squirrels, stuffing yarn into every available nook and cranny in their home, and taking on disastrously large projects that they’re doomed not to finish because they read it in a book. They’re not prone to talking about their insane fetish with the stuff because that’s how the author talks. They don’t write catty tongue-in-cheek letters to the designer whenever they have a project that they just can’t figure out. They don’t start acting like this character the author creates, “The Yarn Harlot” who isn’t likely anywhere near as insane as her books portray her. We understand that she’s hamming it up for the sake of comedy.
The Junie B. Books have come under fire for the exact same reason. The only difference is these are fictional stories, not non-fictional stories that are well exaggerated. However children are expected to be unable to understand the difference between what they should do and what it’s okay for this fictional character to do. Actually, no, it should be what they should do and what this character does do. Junie B. gets in trouble for a lot of what she does, spends half her time in the principal’s office, and is always getting eye rolls, made fun of, and knocked down a few pegs. She’s not exactly rewarded for the way she acts.
All of this got me thinking. What are we saying about our kids if we credit them as being completely unable to understand the concept of humor? Are we saying our kids are so unintelligent that they read one book and their whole behavior is changed for life? It’s kind of scary how little credit some people give children.
The controversy over Junie B. Jones is simple. Parents don’t feel their children should be exposed to bad grammar and Junie B.’s horrible behavior. The books are written from Junie B.’s perspective, complete with her lack of understanding of why the adults around her do certain things. This lends a certain humor to the books. Junie B.’s rude behavior and horrible grammar generally have my kids cracking up. More importantly, it’s actually getting Corde to read, which is a feat in itself, let me tell you! Junie B. faces challenges that most kids understand. I’ve only read the first six books and so far she’s covered fear of taking the school bus, difficult feelings of a new baby in the house, constantly misunderstanding adults, curiosity getting her into trouble, feeling bad because of other kids, competition, feeling left out, and dealing with kids you don’t like. Junie B. handles all these situations horribly and often has to rely on the adults in her life to help her come up with positive solutions. She spends a lot of time in trouble for the bad things she does too, so it’s not like she’s sending a message about getting away with bad things.
Thinking about it some more I realized that everyone knows at least one Junie B. I’ve had the luck of knowing two. Our first Junie B. was a little girl named Brigid. She was the neighbor’s five-year-old daughter from across the street. She’d come over and play with Beekee and Corde. Her attitude and the way she’d talk was just like Junie B. If I didn’t know better I could easily say that Brigid was what Junie B. was written after! Next we met Maddy. Maddy talks a lot like I can imagine Junie B. would if she was nine, bad attitude and everything. That makes it a little more comical too.
Looking at the list of the top 100 banned books in both the decade I was last in school for and the one following I’ve noticed that almost every single book I read in high school is on one of those two lists, if not both. Some of those books really made a difference in my life. Others didn’t make much of a difference at all. We were granted with the intelligence to understand the books and to take something way from it. They weren’t just written off as being “inappropriate”.
I have to admit, some of the books I read in high school might not have been considered great books for teens, but they were balanced out by fantastic teachers that really did their job in helping us understand the novels. One of my personal favorites was Fallen Angels, a book about soldiers in Vietnam. It was dark and a bit on the violent and gory side, but it really helped the kids in our class develop a strong understanding of the horrors of war. Go Ask Alice shocked a lot of kids into understanding the reality of drug use and addiction. It was a little dated as her drugs of choice aren’t as common today, but it’s the journey. While I hated The Catcher in the Rye, many of the kids in school adored it. Fahrenheit 451 is on my list of favorite books of all time and has made Ray Bradbury into one of my all-time favorite authors. I never really liked Lord of the Flies it was a fantastic social commentary and I loved it for that. This is just a tiny fraction of the books that are challenged or banned each year.
Not all of the books under attack are classics. As I said, Junie B. Jones is on that list. Harry Potter, a widely popular series is number one on the list for last decade. It’s likely because the occult influence may lead children astray. I guess we don’t grant our children the ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality. The Hunger Games Trilogy is number two on the list for last year. It’s right up there with the other social commentaries, probably thought no better than Lord of the Flies. Shockingly, The Twilight Saga didn’t make the list. So what they’re telling us is it’s okay for a teen to get impregnated by a vampire and be caught in a love triangle between that vampire and a werewolf, but a hard-hitting social commentary is not okay. Doesn’t this bother anyone else?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t censor our children with reading to some degree. I’m not exactly going to hand Corde a copy of Go Ask Alice any time soon, not that I think it would interest her anyway. At the same time it would be wrong of me to tell her she couldn’t read it, especially since I have a copy in the house. As parents, it’s our job to be aware of what our children have access too and know what they’re ready to handle. It’s one of the many reasons I try to read the books my kids are reading, even if we don’t read them together. I might not read the whole series, perhaps just a book or two depending on the time I have available to commit, but it’s my job to know what they’re into.
More importantly, if I saw Corde picking up Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, Go Ask Alice, or Fallen Angels, it’s not my job to tell her she can’t read it, but I should be there for her to help her process what she’s reading. Okay, maybe I’d strongly advise her against reading Go Ask Alice and I’d have no problems telling her it’s because of the problems the girl had with drugs, body image issues, and everything else. However, if she still wanted to read it, I wouldn’t stop her, but I’d be right there beside her, page by page, so I could answer any questions and help her understand what she’s looking. Hey, Go Ask Alice is a huge part of the reason I never got into drugs. I can’t credit good parenting or a relationship with my parents, but I can credit not wanting to end up like her.
As parents it’s our job to be actively involved in our children’s lives. Our children should feel comfortable coming to us with questions. Our children shouldn’t have to feel the need to hide or steal some book that all their friends are reading because they know they’re not “supposed to” be reading it.
I remember in the whole abortion debate I read someone (no idea who at this point) stated that if you’re pro-life you don’t need to make abortion illegal. If you raise your children well there could be an abortion clinic on every corner and your child will never make use of it. It’s true. Either they’ll prevent an unwanted pregnancy by any means or they’ll take responsibility for their situation and make use of one of the other options available to them. If we raise our children well they will take the messages and the education from these books without being tempted to engage in any kind of violent or racist acts as a result. We can trust them to learn valuable lessons about censorship and freedom of speech, the horrors of war, genocide and utopian societies, and some of the more painful aspects of human nature. Through reading our children can become thinkers.
More importantly, our country was founded on freedom of speech, and that should apply to all kinds of communication. To truly support free speech you need to tolerate everyone’s opinion, no matter how nasty or disturbing it is. In other words, you’ve got to let the Neo-Nazi speak. You have to let the white supremisists speak. You need to allow the Satanists to speak. You need to let the communists speak. Whatever you’re against, you’ve got to let the people who stand for those things share their opinions. You don’t have to like it. You can speak out in opposition to all of it. You can teach the world a better way, but you can’t silence their voices. Shouldn’t the same be said for authors? Shouldn’t we teach our children to make intelligent decisions for themselves in what they read? Can’t we trust them to recognize when something is offensive? Can’t we trust them to make the right decisions and not just copy everything they read in a book because it’s okay?
I’m not saying that censorship in children’s libraries and school libraries is completely wrong. Books should be kept to an age-appropriate level for the children who will be attending that library. I wouldn’t put an Anne Rice novel in an elementary school library. Then again, elementary school kids probably wouldn’t have any interest in reading an Anne Rice novel anyway. It’s not really censorship at that point, but intelligent planning. After all, if you censor books from being allowed in schools a student that’s determined will find a way anyway, especially if it’s a result of “adult content” and a teen.
If you’ve read through all of this, congrats for still being with me. You all know I’m pretty long-winded. If you’d like to know more, check out the American Library Association’s information on Banned and Challenged Books. While you’re at it, check out a few of the titles on that list that you haven’t read already. If you think your kids will be old enough to handle them, maybe try them out. If your kids are younger, I definitely suggest the Junie B. Jones books, but you’ve got to read them in a theatrical way. Read like a fast talker. Give it some attitude. Yell as loud as you can for things in caps. Totally make the character come to life. You’ll be glad you did, and probably have your kids rolling on the floor with how comical the whole story is.
And if you want to help support me and my family in thanks for providing you with thought provoking posts, interesting articles, and a snapshot perspective of what it’s like to walk in our shoes, any of the book title links above will take you to Amazon where I have an associates account. If you’re not familiar with this, any purchases made within 24 hours of clicking one of those links will be credited to my account. I don’t make much off of each sale, but every little bit counts. All proceeds from my Amazon Associates account are being put towards making it possible for Oz to be a part of his other son’s life. We still don’t know what it’s going to take to make that possible, but visitations out of state at the very least can be quite expensive. Every little bit is one step closer towards uniting him with his son.