September 26, 2006

Banned, Baby: Explorations Into Dark Elsewhere

"Putting children in jeopardy." That was the topic of the conversation this morning between The Great Maurice Sendak and NPR affiliate Steve Inskeep on today's Morning Edition. The conversation is fascinating, as Sendak gives his opinions on childhood, on pop-up books, and the danger in our world as a byproduct of a chat about his first pop-up book of beautiful but spooky drawings entitled, Mommy? which is being released in bookstores this month.

When he was a younger artist, many adults were unhappy with Sendak for his dark worldview, where wild things and various "monsters" lurk in night kitchens and under the bed, yet he only responded from his own imagination, which is a theme in Sendak's work: a dark, shadowy world which children had to make it through. Fiction in the United States for children where the child was unsafe was taken poorly, as Americans were offended that their children could be unsafe in this great country. (Interestingly, Europeans seemed to have had a different worldview... The Brothers Grimm, anyone?) This was always a surprise to Sendak, but he maintains,

"All children are in jeopardy. It's unnatural to think of such a thing as a blue-skied, white-clouded, happy childhood. Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving."

And Sendak, with his newest book, is choosing again to deal with the darkness and the fearfulness of his childhood in his typically humorous and plucky way. ART ALERT! A little slideshow of Sendak's older and most recent work can be found right here -- and the show is narrated, and well worth checking out!

Darkness in children's fiction is a great theme for today's Banned Book rant!

I was just mentioning to Jen Robinson that I never understood why Lois Lowry's The Giver was a challenged and banned book. Described poorly in a USA today article in 2001 as a 'suicide book', the Giver has been maligned and misunderstood since its 1993 publication. In Denver, parents approached the school board to challenge the book because they claimed it showed " suicide, euthanasia and infanticide in a neutral to positive light." In that post-Columbine community, parents felt that discussing such things should be re-evaluated. The state of Colorado at that time had the fifth highest suicide rate, and angry parents demanded to know why they had not been notified that such a controversial book was being read to their children.

Yet, when I read it, I didn't see a suicide positive book, or a 'Release' positive book, in dealing with infanticide or euthanasia. If anything, I saw instead a mystical boy who had been given a huge task, which changed him, set him apart from his other peers in the Twelves, and really opened a door within him to something huge and weighty. I saw a boy whose reality changed before his eyes, who was weighed down and entrusted with so much that he had to act.

Ironically, in light of the banning, the sentences that stick out the most in my mind from Jonas are these:

"I thought there was only us! I thought there was only now!" and "We don't dare to let people make choices of their own. ... We really have to protect people from wrong choices."


Lowry was making a statement with this book -- a statement brought on by a childhood of knowing about people who are different, and knowing about shutting people and certain thoughts out, and thinking, believing, hoping you are safe. It's about learning that other people outside our charmed circles matter, it's about looking outward and acting to affect the good of all. It's a beautiful, meaningful and deep concept, and our young readers deserve to read and know and think about that. Are we coasting? Are we insulating ourselves at the expense of opening the gate to freedom and inquiry? If so, isn't it time to change?

Timely thoughts.

And so, I leave you with the closing statement from her Newbury speech and with a few sympathetic chills and sniffles:

The man that I named The Giver passed along to the boy knowledge, history, memories, color, pain, laughter, love, and truth. Every time you place a book in the hands of a child, you do the same thing.

It is very risky.

But each time a child opens a book, he pushes open the gate that separates him from Elsewhere. It gives him choices. It gives him freedom.
Those are magnificent, wonderfully unsafe things."

Free people read freely.
Now, wipe your nose and go celebrate the freedom to read any old book you choose!


DaviMack said...

Just remember ... the Libraries are required to tell which books you've got checked out, though. Just so's you know. If you plan on running for office in Colorado any time soon, they'll know that you read banned books. Beware.

a. fortis said...

That's okay. I'm sure they're already keeping tabs on me just because of my ethnicity. I might as well really confuse them.

TadMack said...

I'm sure it's the year I voted Green Party that did it for me. They've been checking my library tab for books about saving trees ever since. Wicked, I tell you.

Jules said...

Great post! Can't stinkin' wait to get my hands on the Sendak book. We linked this post to our blog entry today. Love it ..... jules

Jen Robinson said...

What a wonderful quote. Thanks for sharing it!

TadMack said...

Yay, Jules! Thanks for visiting, and your site is TRES COOL!

And Jen, I, too, just LOVE that entire Lowery speech... I wonder if people actually even really hear all that is said at those award presentations; I love reading them afterwards, and getting to say, "Wow!"

I can't imagine how stressful it must be to write something like that. She's amazing!