Authors Speak: Banned Books Week Wrap-Up
Today is the final day of Banned Books Week. I thought I would close out this blog series by sharing some quotes about censorship from authors whose books have been banned or challenged.
The late Maya Angelou published her best-selling novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1969. Despite its popularity and many accolades, the book was widely banned by many a school curriculum for its “indecency.” The book’s description of drug use, sex, teen pregnancy, and molestation was too much for conservative-minded school board members to bear. Angelou had strong feelings on this matter, noting that her books were banned by people who “probably never read more than a couple of sentences.” She added: “I feel sorry for the young person who never gets to read it.”
From the very serious musings of Maya Angelou, let us now leap into a whole ‘nother realm of literature: Captain Underpants. This humorous book series, written by Dave Pilkey, was the #1 most banned book of 2012. It actually out-ranked the steamy sex/ bondage/ “Fifty Shades of Gray” trilogy!!! Parents objected to the potty humor and language in the books, as well as the title character’s “partial nudity.” (Um, he’s a fat cartoon kid wearing tighty-whitey undies!) They also complained about the behavior of the characters George and Harold, saying they encourage bullying, violence, and disrespect for authority. It seems that Pilkey foresaw the controversy, as the book contains a “Sturgeon General’s Warning” that reads as follows: “Some material in this book may be considered offensive by people who don’t wear underwear.” In response to the furor surrounding his books, Pilkey told the Huffington Post: “It’s pretty exciting to be on a list that frequently features Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Maya Angelou. But I worry that some parents might see this list and discourage their kids from reading, even though they have not had a chance to read the books themselves.”
Speaking of children’s books, let’s talk about And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. It is the story of a couple of male penguins, Roy and Silo, who lived at New York’s Central Park Zoo. Having no interest in female penguins, they shared a nest with each other. They took turns sitting on a rock, hoping it would hatch like an egg. Zookeepers gave the couple a real egg to nurture, so that they could be parents. Their daughter was named Tango. This is a TRUE story about REAL penguins. Yet, instead of seeing it as a sweet, fuzzy-wuzzy kids’ story, parents lambasted it in 2007 for its depiction of homosexuality. They accuse the author of promoting the “gay agenda” and say that the book has no place in children’s libraries. Richardson and Parnell are a real-life gay couple who were trying to have a child when they heard of Roy and Silo’s story. Richardson says: “When we heard about the penguins going and getting a rock, we completely understood that urge to have a child.” (The couple now have a daughter named Gemma.) Fortunately, the majority of parents (and kids) see this book for what it is: a heartwarming story.
I could go on and on about the topic of censorship, but I will reign myself in. I’ll close this blog series with some thoughts from horror master Stephen King, who has seen many of his books banned (Carrie, Christine, Cujo, The Dead Zone, The Shining, and many others) wrote a guest column on the topic for his hometown newspaper, the Bangor Daily News. Here’s the advice he had for young people:
“Hustle down to your public library, where these frightened people’s reach must fall short in a democracy, or to your local bookstore, and get a copy of what has been banned. Read it carefully and discover what it is your elders don’t want you to know. In many cases you’ll finish the banned book in question wondering what all the fuss was about. In others, however, you will find vital information about the human condition.”
You can read the entire, thought-provoking column here: