Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Banned Books Week - Teaching My Children To Think For Themselves

When I became a parent, I became someone who had to say "no" a lot. No hitting, no throwing food, no driving without a seatbelt, no putting a fork in the toaster. One thing I never said "no" about was reading. Anything.

My kids come from a long line of children who have read books that have since been banned for one reason or another: James and the Giant Peach, Harriet The Spy, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Outsiders, and A Wrinkle In Time. It really never even occurred to me to forbid my own children from reading something when they were young.

When the "Goosebumps" series became "the" thing to read for,  grade school kids, my eldest devoured them. He must have read thirty of them. My mother was appalled. But he was reading and I was thrilled by that. If they had influenced his behavior in any way, then we might have had to look at letting him read them. But they didn't. They gave him a fun escape and reinforced the idea that reading can be fun in a lot of ways.

So they read scandalizing books including Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (poor philosophy of life), The Lorax (it criminalized the foresting industry and would encourage children against logging), Where The Wild Things Are (promotes witchcraft and supernatural events), Harry Potter (promotes godless witchcraft), Strega Nona (magic), Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (because scary, of course), In The Night Kitchen (nudity), and The Adventures of Captain Underpants (apparently seeing characters in underwear is dangerous?).

Nebraska's a pretty conservative state but that never stopped my kids' teachers from including books in the curriculum that had been challenged in other places. In school my kids read The Giver, Bridge To Terabithia, The Chocolate War, Lord of The Flies, and The Call of The Wild. I may have been largely unaware of what had been challenged in other places, but you can be sure that school had to have known and used the books any way. I'm not saying that there haven't been books that have been challenged in our school district. But it has largely stood by the opinion that every parent must decide for themselves and have not forced one parent's opinion onto everyone. So Speak and Cut were available to my daughter, who needed them; A Light In The Attic helped encourage a love of poetry which is now one of my son's passions; and Ender's Game which fed my other son's love of sci-fi and fantasy.

All of that and not one of my kids has been drawn into witchcraft or chained themselves to a tree in protest (although I wouldn't really have a problem with that) or try to to school in nothing but their underwear and a cape. I doubt very much that they even really noticed that the little boy in In The Night Kitchen was naked and, quite frankly, they liked being scared by their books.

Not only have I never felt that my kids were harmed by anything they read, I have always felt like the learned something from everything they read. They learned that it's okay to be silly, to dream, that one individual can make a difference, that they should surround themselves with people who love and support them, that sometimes life is scary and sad, and that good things can happen when people stand up to evil. Most of all, they've learned to think for themselves and form their own opinions. All of the things that their dad and I have been teaching them all of their lives.

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