On Maurice Sendak, Banned Books and Reading Rebellions
My introduction to banned and censored books came in high school through my mom, Peggy Brady, when she went back to college during my high school years to earn a ME from Louisiana Tech University. She’d taught elementary and middle school for decades, but in our home state that didn’t translate into being able to support financially two or three people. Going back was the path to being able to provide. She decided to do a specialty at Louisiana Tech in Reading, and this is where it started to get really interesting. Besides being a talented and beloved teacher, Mom was also a frustrated artist. She’d taught elementary school in Chicago for a while to be able to attend art classes there, and had studied with a New Orleans painter while working in an office. None of this translated into a career in art, and she eventually turned to education as an outlet for all that creativity.
She decided to do her thesis on Maurice Sendak, and drew large versions of the monsters from “Where the Wild Things Grow” and Mikey from “In the Night Kitchen”. Being able to see her creativity in action was thrilling, and I came away with a deep abiding love for Sendak’s creatures. In our family library cards were a really, really big deal. Mom used her’s from the Jackson Parish Public Library and Louisiana Tech’s college library to bring home Sendak’s books, and it was then my education about censorship and book banning began.
The copy of “In the Night Kitchen” she brought home from the parish library had been censored, altered, by an unknown hand. Mikey suddenly had pants one every page instead of a bare bottom or boy parts. As an artist and right brained individual, she thought it ridiculous and outrageous that a Caldecott Honor recipient had been altered, and “challenged or banned in other parts of the United States”. My mom was a tremendous prude, but Mickey’s nudity didn’t bother her one jot. After teaching little boys for decades, she knew them well enough to realize that little boys, especially very little boys, have no problem with nudity until we make them aware of it.
From this “toe in the water” experience of censorship and book banning, the world opened up to me. How could an individual decide what was correct reading for an entire parish or school system? In our home National Geographic had an almost holy status, and you never cut pictures from them for school reports. Destroy or deface a book? Ye gods no. Even turning down a book page to keep one’s place was considered rude and ridiculous. The printed word was sacred. My teenaged brain focused on the arguments people were using to challenge books in school systems and libraries. Heaven help us if someone was offended by Anne Frank’s menstrual cycle, Mikey’s nudity, and Winne the Pooh’s animal friends. Yes, you read that right. Winne the Pooh is at number 22 of banned books according to the American Library Association’s 100 most banned classic books.
So be a rebel. Read The Diary of Anne Frank, Winne the Pooh, Into the Night Kitchen, Harry Potter, or any other banned book, juvenile or otherwise, for yourself. Use your library card, or go out and get one this week. Ask your librarians for help finding those books others would deny you, and be dangerous to close mindedness and book banners.