Interesting thing about several of these classic life-changing reads – they’ve been on banned books or challenged books lists! (Banned Books Week is right around the corner, by the way – September 26th to October 3rd – please mark it on your calendars!) Books that have appeared on banned lists or that have been challenged, restricted or removed from libraries, school districts, bookstores, etc. include L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and Stine’s Goosebumps series, to name just a few.
As a fulltime genre fiction book reviewer and father of two young children, I’ve become particularly interested in exactly why these seemingly harmless works of fantasy have been banned. The big question, for me, is: should kids read fantasy or, by experiencing books like Where the Wild Things Are at a young age, will they grow up to become deluded social degenerates, Satan worshippers, and/or mass murderers?
Over the weekend, my wife shared with me a passage from a new parenting book she was reading entitled Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief, which looks at child rearing from a humanistic perspective. In Chapter Five (Ingredients of a Life Worth Living) there was a question and answer section that included this excerpt:
“Q: I have very mixed feelings about fantasy. It seems to me that we humans tend to cling to imaginary things instead of seeking the beauty in reality. On the other hand, my reading as a kid was all about dragons and elves; I loved it and never confused it with the real world. As a humanistic parent, what place should I expect fantasy and imagination to have in my kids’ world?
A: They belong somewhere very close to the center of that world.
In his introduction to The Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck wrote, ‘The impulse that drives a man to poetry will send another man into the tide pools and force him to report what he finds there.’ If anybody could say that with confidence, it would be a novelist on a scientific expedition. This remark was a profound comment on human nature: Both art and science spring from human tendencies to seek patterns in the world around us and to wonder, ‘What if…?’
Steinbeck’s deceptively simple comment has a powerful message for humanist parents. It is just as important to encourage our children’s imagination and artistry as it is to encourage their reasoning abilities and love for science…
Fantasy also nurtures the capacity to hope. Hope is radically different from faith. To hope is not to assume that things will be better, but to be sustained by the sense that they can be better and to act accordingly. With hope, we recognize those moments that call on us not merely to adapt to circumstances, but to seek, recognize, and seize the opportunity for change.
Seeking the opportunity means beginning with an act of imagination that can only be fulfilled through determination and rational striving, integrating all our human potentials.”
The religion vs. humanism issue notwithstanding, a big factor in deciding whether or not to “expose” my children to fantasy fiction is my own childhood experience; I grew up in a reading household – my father read the newspaper every morning and he always had a collection of eclectic magazines (Popular Science, Newsweek, Omni, etc.) scattered around the house. My mother was a big fan of Danielle Steel and romance fiction in general and was always reading a book. Growing up, I was encouraged to read at an early age and given free range to devour whatever novels I could get my hands on – except my mother’s stash of Harold Robbins novels! Reading fantasy in particular super-charged my imagination and not only made me look at my own existence in a different light but unarguably enriched my mind.
So, yes, when my children are old enough to understand books like Bunnicula and A Wrinkle in Time, I’ll not only make the books available for them, I’ll be the first to congratulate them when they finish reading them. And what about some of these reads being on banned books lists at some point? My take on it is this: What a wonderful opportunity to teach my kids about the dangers that exist when, as the American Library Association so fittingly states, “restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”
So with Banned Book Week a little more than a month away, all parents reading this blog should take advantage of this annual event and make it a point to talk with their kids about the monumental significance of our First Amendment rights – and maybe pick up a copy of Where the Wild Things Are while you’re at it.