In a wonderful article in The Huffington Post, children’s book author Julianna Baggott tells the sad tale of Brown Bear. The hero of the beloved book by Bill Martin, Jr. is no longer out seeing the other animals – he’s been banned by the Texas Board of Education.
Seems that a very different Bill Martin – no Jr. and no children’s books to his name – wrote a very different kind of book, called Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation. The Texas Board of Education understandably felt, as Baggott notes, that there might be “compelling reason not to include Bill Martin’s Ethical Marxism on the curriculum list for elementary school children in Texas.” And then, just to be sure, they banned all of what they thought were Bill Martin’s other books. Like – you got it – Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Read Baggott’s article for her take on this boneheaded mess; it’s very funny and original, as might be expected from the author of such excellent books as The Prince of Fenway Park and The Ever Breath.
But there is a serious side to all this. Brown Bear, Brown Bear isn’t by a Marxist author and isn’t a work of political philosophy. However, plenty of children’s books do promote political or philosophical viewpoints. Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax is pro-environmentalist. Heather Has Two Mommies is, well, obvious. And some people don’t want their kids exposed to such books. According to Wikipedia, the picture book And Tango Makes Three, the true story of a male penguin couple raising a chick, was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007, and 2008, and the most banned book of 2009.
Nor do all objections come from right-wingers. Some Native American scholars are asking that teachers not use Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books because of their depiction of Native Americans. My own high school librarian, eons ago, refused to have a copy of Gone With the Wind on her shelves because she felt it demeaned African Americans. Sometimes politics has nothing to do with it: sex and religion are big button-pushers, too, as reactions to the Harry Potter books, Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and John Green’s Looking for Alaska have shown. One way or another, dozens of books for children and young adults get challenged and even banned on a regular basis.
So: where do you stand? Is it ever OK to ban a book? Does it matter how old the kids are, or what the “objectionable” content is? Who gets to decide? What do you think?