Step right up, folks! Peer at the subversive, the insensitive, the unAmerican! Watch the little fictional chilluns as they challenge authority! We got gore, we got cannibalism, we got your ghosties and ghoulies, witches and goblins, we got grown men in their BVDs, and yes, we got your Big Toe, too! For the small cost (free actually) of a library card, you, too, can admire the spectacle of grown-ups freaking out over terrifically fun children's books. Watch the big, smart grown-ups as they run amok, shriek hysterically, drop to the library floor and drum their collective heels in fine tantrums! And all in the name of protecting the wee'uns! Folks, I'll tell ya, censorship has no pride. It's a horrible sight! Horrible! So step right up, ladies and gents, step right up! As promised, two! Count'em! Two! reviews of books that appear in the top ten of the Top 100 Banned / Challenged Books in 2000 - 2007.
For your deee-lectation, allow me to present to you The Adventures of Captain Underpants: An Epic Novel by the one, the only, the wildly wild Dav Pilkey. According to the American Library Association, this morally reprehensible tome was challenged "for insensitivity and being unsuited to age group, as well as encouraging children to disobey authority." Funny though, they didn't mention the part in the story about the adult blackmailing the kids into indentured servitude. As Captain Underpants would say, "tra la laaaa!"
What the book really is, is the story of two highly energetic, wonderfully creative boys, relentless pranksters, who write their own comic books about a superhero called Captain Underpants. In a train of imaginative, if unlikely events, the boys manage to hypnotize their school principal and turn him into their comic book creation, Captain Underpants. Now I admit there is no overriding moral theme to this story. But it was hard to find the book anything but perfect bedtime reading for rascally little boys who would never sit still for the character lessons of 'The Little Engine That Could.' Not only is the story giggle-inducing (or would be if I were still seven years old) but the illustrations are perfectly matched to the story as well as adding fine points to the written word. This book is just good fun for kids, the very thing to encourage the wee bairns to read more.
Now, ladies and gentlemen! Quiet, please! I must have absolute quiet. We are about to pass through the corridor of nightmares. Any sound at all will stir the censors, for they sleep but lightly. Aye, softly then and at the end of this dim hallway where the very walls seem to breathe challenges I will open this door, yes, with this very skeleton key I will unlock the creaky door to a world of -- gasp -- folklore! Horrid, horrid folklore!
Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz, is a perfect gem of a Halloween book. The 'scary stories' are short tales, 2-3 pages each, adapted from lengthier bits of folklore. These are the kinds of stories children love to scare themselves with, whether they are in their own rooms, huddled under a blanket tent with a flashlight and their own imaginations or whether they are cuddled next to Mom and Pop around a campfire, toasting marshmallows and listening to the grown-ups tell tales so horrific that the kids' eyes water from fear. The rugrats also get a brief but interesting lesson in folklore, which the author provides at the close of the stories. The book was challenged because it contains "depictions of cannibalism, murder, witchcraft, and ghosts."
Hey, you got me, it does contain those things...if by "depiction of cannibalism" they are referring to the Big Toe tale, where people find a big toe, eat it (economic crisis, I suppose), and then a ghoulie visits the house looking for his big toe. You know this story, everyone does, or else you know a similar one about a golden arm. And you know you were very young when you first heard the story. Did it ruin your psyche? Give you nightmares? Bah, humbug! Challenging this book was really just about adults who get creeped out easily. Kids have a very high tolerance for the gruesome and grotesque. And author Schwartz actually did a nice job of reducing these old stories down to a child's level of enjoyment without rendering them completely toothless. After all, folk tales usually were created for a purpose, either to comfort or to warn, etc. I had a fine time with this book as it brought back memories of my own childhood friends and swapping ghost stories, the eeriest and most frightening of which were told to me by a grown-up, a shy Cherokee from Oklahoma, name of Bradley.
And best of all, Schwartz reminded me of The Hearse Song,* a mainstay of childish grotesquerie. Yes, indeedy... "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out..."