“Would you like a puff of my cigar?” she said.
“I’m only seven, Grandmamma.”
“I don’t care what age you are,” she said. “You’ll never catch a cold if you smoke cigars.”
from: The Witches
written by Roald Dahl
pictures by Quentin Blake
Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983
I read banned books, but I missed most of Roald Dahl, mainly because he was writing and publishing his books when I was in my thirties. I was going to library school, reading other books, banned and not, and my girls were too young to listen to anything much longer than picture books. So I’m doing some catch-up.
When I worked as a children’s librarian, an important part of my job was recommending books to children. Sometimes they needed something for a school assignment. Sometimes, though, they wanted something good to fill up some spare time.
Recommending books can be tricky. It is always a judgement call. I’ve been known to play it safe, but also have gone out on many a limb. I was never questioned by a parent or my boss, and kids more often than not came back to me for more ideas. So I guess I did okay.
When I worked as an English teacher, though, a choice of mine was challenged. I assigned The Scarlet Letter to my 11th grade students. The coursework for the year included American Literature and I decided to start with something old but current. Tricky, but it worked for me and most of the students.
In case you don’t remember the story:
In the middle of the 1600s, Hester Prynn had a child out of wedlock--with a minister! Hester’s punishment included wearing a red “A” on her dress (public humiliation), not being able to be with the man she loved (emotional distress) her husband’s return after a two-year absence (more emotional distress), and being thrown into the role of single parent (social isolation and even more emotional distress).Hester’s and Reverend Dimmsdale’s action was certainly not condoned. It seemed to me that the consequences of their indiscretion were fairly horrible. But apparently, I missed the point. Even though the sex was off-scene, it happened. Hester really did give birth to a baby daughter. Consequences aside (really?) the complaint came because of the undescribed but extramarital sex..
Children need boundaries. Children also need to test those boundaries. Learning about life by reading. Figuring out that actions have consequences. Testing boundaries with literature, hmmm. Sounds like a good idea to me! I think I’ll re-read 1984. That’s not even totally science fiction anymore!
To see the top 10 challenged books of 2015 as reported by the American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
Scroll down to click on previous years.