In BarnesandNoble.com’s community forums, we’ve recently been discussing books that initially got us not only hooked on the fantasy genre but also motivated us to become lifelong readers – and many of those releases are categorized as children’s or young adult books: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Deborah Howe’s Bunnicula, The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels, etc.  

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.

 

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Comments
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-10-2009 11:33 AM

That quote made me think of a couple I met when my kids were little. They didn't believe in "lying" to their kids about things like tooth fairies or Santa Claus or Easter bunnies, because those things weren't real and thus did not deserve their attention.

 

I was flabbergasted. How could anyone not want to nurture a child's imagination and sense of wonder? Reality only becomes more amazing when you can spice it up with the possibility of magic!

 

Possibly my husband and I took it to the other extreme. When my daughter wrote a letter to the tooth fairy asking about her friends and family, I wrote (left-handed, so she wouldn't recognize my hand-writing) a long, complicated tale of Tatiana, her personal tooth fairy. When she lost a tooth while we were on vacation, she was distraught that Tatiana wouldn't be able to find her. So I had to invent Desiree, Tatiana's cousin. I ended up having to keep a freakiing database with the tooth fairy's details and her family tree.

 

When my kids were old enough to ask about Santa Claus, I read them "Yes, Virginia" and said, "It's up to you, of course, but I believe in Santa Claus. I believe in a lot of things others might say aren't real. In this house, Santa will be real as long as you want him to be." When my kids come home for Christmas -- they're in their twenties now -- they still put out a cookie for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer. And the elves still hide treats in the advent calendar.

 

We read everything to our kids, and then the kids started reading for themselves -- all the books you mentioned and more. And I'd do it again, in a minute. 

by on ‎08-10-2009 11:48 AM

Paul,

 

I too feel that Fantasy is important in anyone's lives but especially children because if we deprive them of imagination and dreams where are the new advances going to come from.  A Lot of the things we have today came from dreamers of the past.  I got my son hooked on fantasy and do not regret it one bit.

 

Toni

by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎08-10-2009 01:50 PM

A rich imagination unfettered by the "real world" is unique to a child - it should be supported and nurtured for sure.  If fantasy elves and dragons and wizards are to a child's taste, then go for it but a child can have just as rich an imaginative life with Winnie-the-Pooh, Little Women, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.  I think children should be allowed to read in whatever direction their imaginations take them (I was raised like that :smileyhappy: ).

 

Having fantasy in your life doesn't hurt - I was convinced my Pooh Bear and Fozzie Bear stuffed animals could talk to me and believed in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus until I was ten.  When I finally cornered my mom about the existence of Santa, she said that the important thing about Santa wasn't the presents at Christmas but the joy of giving things to your loved ones.  I got to help play Santa for my neices this year - it was a blast and the girls loved showing everyone what "Anacow" brought them.

by on ‎08-10-2009 02:21 PM

I can't imagine a child deprived of fantasy. It is as essential as food.

The squeals of laughter while reading Where the Wild Things Are are precious memories of how involved in a fantasy a child can become. My children had Santa, Easter Bunny, the Leprechaun for St. Patricks Day, etc. They seem to be very grounded to me. But then they also thought Star Trek and Star Wars were real, at least when they were younger. They saw shelves of sci-fi and fantasy books and had a mother reading Goosebumps with them. The ability to go to the moon was a fantasy for generations that was accomplished before today's children were born. Think of the science it took to get there. I think fantasy and imagination are like air, you need them to live.

by malcocer on ‎08-10-2009 07:44 PM
I grew up in a house without a TV (to this day my Mom doesn't own one), but with a personal library of about 5,000 books and multiple magazine subscriptions.  When I was in highschool I also worked in the local library part-time.  I grew up surrounded by books.  I read everything I could get my hands on - fiction, biographies, encyclopedia's, romance, teen series - whatever I could find to read.  I didn't even see a movie in the theatre until I was in my late teens.  I grew up with quite a vivid imagination, and when I actually did see a movie, I thought it was like watching a book.  Now I collect both, but still read to my daughter and encourage her imagination - how do we really know there is no Middle-Earth, no faries, no werewolves & vampires, no mermaids???  :smileyhappy:
by Ayrina on ‎08-10-2009 11:21 PM

paulgoatallen wrote:
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?

 

The idea that reading Where the Wild Things Are could make a child into a Satan worshipper is ridiculous. So is the idea that there's something wrong with Satan worshippers.

 

Yes, I know that's not quite the point you were trying to make here, but the inclusion of Satanists in a list with deluded social degenerates and mass murderers is really quite offensive to those of us who do choose to worship Satan. The first amendment protects freedom of speech and press, but it also protects freedom of religion, and if children feel that Satanism speaks to them more than Christianity or Judaism or whatever else, then that's their choice. Worshipping Satan does not make them social degenerates or mass murderers any more than reading fantasy novels does.

 

Just thought I'd point that out.

by Moderator paulgoatallen on ‎08-11-2009 12:15 AM

Ayrina:

I included the term "Satan worshippers" not as a joke or to imply that there was anything wrong with it but as a reference to some of the alleged consequences listed on some banned books lists. And, yes, it is ridiculous!  Just because there are demons or monsters in a fantasy novel doen't mean that readers will become Satan worshippers. Or by reading particularly gruesome crime fiction, readers will become mass murderers. I'm all for First Amendment rights – that was the inspiration behind this blog – when I found out that Where the Wild Things Are was on some challenged book lists I had to write something about it because it is so unbelievable!

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎08-11-2009 11:26 AM

Wow Paul great article. 

My daughter now 29, had an insatiable appetite when it came to reading and I am a firm believer in let them read fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal etc. She grew up with ET and cartoons were filled with beings from other galaxies etc. And as Becke mentioned Santa Clause etc. well she believed until the age of 12, of course when she finally found out I was the bad guy for LYING to her. Well that had more to do with age than anything. Book banning has always incensed a rage in me that rings with hypocrisy that the same people banning Bunnicula let their kids watch Sesame Street, hello have they met the count? Or here's something to encourage our kids with a guy that lives in the garbage. Whatever. How about all the serial killers/other icky villains  that grew up reading the bible and all the other "non-banned" material. 

I'm proud to say that my library district carries all the banned books above that you mentioned. 

by FindingLydia on ‎08-17-2009 03:56 PM
I just can't believe "Where the Wild Things Are" are was on a banned list... is it still on a banned list? I read that in Children's Lit about a billion years ago and noone talked about banning it. What's their beef?
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