Sunday, September 24, 2017

Banned Books Week 2017: Sunday

The phenomenon of books that are censored from school libraries has always been fascinating to me. So all this week, which libraries officially recognize as "Banned Books Week", I will be doing blog posts on banned books.

First up, on Sunday, September 24, a look at the most banned and challenged author in America. 

No, not J.K. Rowling. Or Judy Blume.

No, it's the seemingly innocent Dr. Seuss.

Born in 1904 as Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss has written over 50 books that remain children's classics. Over 75% of them have been challenged (meaning, parents have written schools letters saying that these books should not be in school libraries). Here are his most challenged and censored titles. 


"Horton Hears a Who". 
You'd think everyone would have positive sentiment to the famous quotation "A person's a person no matter how small." Like most of his work, Horton Hears a Who has been referred to by the author as an allegory that makes a social point. The social point being made is against discrimination. Though Seuss's later The Sneetches is better known as an allegory for discrimination, Horton Hears a Who is this as well - Seuss himself has said so. 

Only some people take "no matter how small" too literally.

Once it became well known that many of Seuss's books were allegories, it became widely (and wrongly) thought that Horton Hears a Who was about abortion and its arc words of "a person's a person no matter how small" were communicating a pro-life message. As early as 1969 and as late as this year, Horton Hears a Who has been challenged and banned by the pro-choice community. Challenge letters have referred to the book as "Christian propaganda" or "conservative propaganda" with a "politically biased viewpoint". Did Seuss face the same problems when he wrote about the Whos again? Actually he did.


"How the Grinch Stole Christmas".
The most rewritten work of all time. The book that spawned Christianizations and my own little rehash I'm working on, and most famously a TV cartoon that has played for nearly 50 years on NBC. And, a commonly banned title - for two reasons that completely oppose each other.

This classic title was recently banned from a Rhode Island public school system because of "concerns that it would offend people who do not observe Christmas." There goes the PC brigade again. In fact, it's widely and wrongly assumed that the Grinch character represents the PC brigade, and his efforts to steal Christmas from the Whos represent the alleged attempts of secular progressives to take Christ out of Christmas. 

But the evangelical brigade had something to say about this book too. Many Christian schools over the years have had problems with the book never mentioning Jesus. One even called the book "ungodly." Though I am working to include Jesus in the traditional story, I don't think any book that mentions Jesus is ungodly.

So, in short, this book has been censored for being too religious and for not being religious enough.


"The Butter Battle Book".

This is well known as a Seussian satire of the nuclear arms race between West Germany and East Germany. It's been censored on the grounds that kids don't need to know about that stuff until they're a little older.

Also, the book's depiction of a Seussian atomic bomb has gotten it in trouble on occasion. 

I wonder why I have so little to say about this one.


"The Lorax". 

Seuss's 1971 environmentalist fable is on the "commonly challenged" list mostly due to parents complaining that the way it portrays logging is too negative. Like Horton Hears a Who, it's been accused of having a politically biased viewpoint. (However, Horton's alleged bias was to the political right, The Lorax's to the left.)

But wasn't the whole point of the book to show that logging is wrong? 

Or, could it be something else entirely?

I am growing to not see the book as an environmentalist fable. Perhaps cutting down the Truffula Trees is a metaphor for spreading prejudice and xenophobia, and the animals that the Lorax says must go (the fish, the swans, and the Barbaloots) represent groups that are discriminated against. The seed that the Onceler gives the boy at the end could represent that it is in the hands of all people to end prejudicial behavior.

P.S. One group was so outraged by the book's portrayal of logging that they published "The Truax", which was essentially a parody from the logging point of view. "The Truax'' was banned as well.


"Green Eggs and Ham"

What harm did a book that used only 50 different words do? A lot, said one California school. One parent could not help but notice that the way the green ham was drawn, it looked like a penis. And then they just got carried away, thinking the green eggs looked like testicles (or breasts), and wrote a letter to the local school complaining about the seemingly innocent book's "sexual imagery."

And it actually got banned. That California school library actually decided that Green Eggs and Ham contained sexual imagery and needed to be removed.

But in the unlikely case that the green eggs and ham are, in fact, a penis and some testicles, what is Sam-I-Am trying to get the guy to do with them. Eating the green eggs and ham means doing what to the penis and testicles? I really don't want to know. 


"Oh, the Places You'll Go"

Seuss's last book that sells like hotcakes every late May and early June when parents buy it for graduations. Now this ban is some juicy stuff. 

Apparently, one parent wanted to buy the book for her daughter but wondered what she would think about the child shown throughout the book clearly being male. She then wrote her daughter's school, challenging the book on the grounds that it was allegedly sexist. The school library didn't remove it, so this mother wrote her own version of "Oh, the Places You'll Go" focusing on the theme that society does not limit girls and they can pursue any path they dream of following. Dr. Seuss Enterprises successfully prevented publication of this rehash, but that didn't stop many parents from demanding that a "female version" of this book be made.

And maybe it will be made.

I am all about "He for She" right now, and there are several places on my blog where you can find my feminist rallying cry in screenplay form, "Fearless Girl", including right here.

"Fearless Girl", I must admit, now that I look back on it, is more about rewriting the meaning of the phrase "like a girl" than actually saying that girls are unstoppable, but maybe I should communicate that in a future screenplay, such as a sequel to "Fearless Girl".

I've been asking, should I do the sequel?

What do you think? Leave your response in the comments!









1 comment:

  1. I never understood banned books myself – don’t read it if you don’t want to or don’t want your kids to read. Why do we need to “ban” books? Also, as far as your last question – yes, absolutely you should write a follow-up to Fearless Girl. Great stuff!

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