I want my child to read banned books. Here’s why

A few months ago, a long awaited moment in my life came: my 8 year old reluctantly let me read to her from my favorite childhood book, Harriet the Spy. When I opened my original copy, now faded, yellowed and torn, and started reading about this discerning tomboy determined to be a writer, I had excited butterflies in my stomach. But they stopped a few pages later when Harriet’s nanny, Ole Golly, introduced Harriet to Ole Golly’s mother, who is obese. For several pages, Harriet repeatedly recalls Mrs. Golly’s body, describing her as a “mountain” bursting out of her “ham-handed” clothes. She has some kind of intellectual disability, maybe dementia. “That fat lady wasn’t very bright,” thinks Harriet.

When I finished the chapter, I closed the book and reminded my daughter that people come in all sizes and that making a big deal out of someone’s looks isn’t pretty. And I was talking about her grandfather, my father, who had dementia his whole life – he had a problem with his brain, I said, which wasn’t his fault.

We often have these conversations about older books. The girl inside That secret garden was born in India and is downright cruel to the locals who work for her family, calling them “pigs”. Stuart Little is kind of a sexist idiot. That Babysitter Club The series has modern moments, but the books shouldn’t always cast Claudia as a “terrible student” when she struggles with math and reading, but clearly seem destined for a bright career in art or fashion. And as the only Asian character, she is consistently described in an exotic way, with “beautiful dark almond-shaped eyes” and “jet black hair.”

“Stuart Little is kind of a sexist idiot.”

Alison McCook

Not me ban one of these books; They are still sitting on my child’s bookshelf. But I’d rather she read them with me so we can talk about the many hard sides they contain.

Not all children’s books should take place in a politically correct utopia where differences are celebrated and everyone is gentle and kind. There’s a reason schools teach Lord of the flies and That Merchant of Venice, although the cruelty is rampant in both. It is important that children learn that life is not a PC utopia and develop tools to think about and deal with it.

That being said, I also think it makes sense to re-read some of the books that we consider classics and ask ourselves if the moments they depict are genuinely educational or just downright gruesome. If the latter is the case, perhaps they should be part of a classroom rather than the library so that teachers can talk to children about what they are reading and help them place it in a modern context.

But we don’t seem able to have sensible conversations about books at school, largely out of fear. On one side of the conversation, adults who want children to have access to books by different authors and subjects fear being labeled “groomers” trying to “make” all kids gay or trans. On the other hand, we have adults who are afraid of compassionately exposing children to ugly bits of history or different types of people. But those conversations are important, especially since Central Bucks adopted a new ban on books with “sexualized content,” and Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of book bans of any state (after Texas).

So let me start. I think we should revisit some older books that can make some children feel hurt or unwelcome in the world. (That is visit againNot ban.) But the books I suggest we revisit are not the books that are likely to be banned by Central Bucks and other school districts across the state that target books containing LGBTQ characters or race or address racism. I want my daughter to read the often banned books The bluest eye and Gender Queer: A Memoireven if she is not LGBTQ herself – I want to open her mind and heart to people who are different from her.

ยป READ MORE: Why I am taking my child to Philly Pride

One of my favorite days of the year is Philadelphia Pride, and I take my child with me whenever I can. This year the children’s section had a book section with autograph sessions and she asked me to buy her a book with the title When Aidan became a brother, about a trans boy and how he and his family learn from his experiences as they welcome a new sibling. “You taught us how important it is to love someone for who they are,” says Aidan’s mother.

My daughter loves this book and so do I. It’s a beautiful story about family, acceptance and a kid just trying to be himself. I hope reading about Aidan will help my daughter with that Courage to be herself, knowing that she deserves to feel loved and accepted no matter what.

And I hope she always remembers the caption that author Kyle Lukoff (who is also trans) wrote for her when we asked him to autograph her copy. “Thank you for being part of this world,” he wrote.

Alison McCook is Assistant Opinion Editor at The Inquirer.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.