Friday I went to the Children’s section of my favorite library to check out some of the controversial picture books and early reader books. I have always found it curious that people could actually find something in picture books that might necessitate banning.
#5 In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
First, when this was published in 1970, it was received a Caldecott honor. It also made most of the major children’s book lists that year, from the New York Times to the Library of Congress. Here we are, forty years later, while people talk about the moral bankruptcy of our times, and this classic is being banned? Where exactly does this magical “good old days” line begin and end?
I found the book to be amusing and certainly appreciated the dreamlike quality. Though I liked the more comic strip like illustrations, Where the Wild Things Are certainly remains one of my favorites from Sendak. So the kid is naked in it? He goes in and out of dough and milk, it is not entirely illogical. Read into the images what you will, but I highly doubt a four year old reading this will need Freudian therapy because he or she was read it.
#6 And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Though I had heard about the book for a few years, this was my first time reading it. Honestly, I thought it was going to be a clever little story for kids to introduce them to the idea of same-sex couples. And it was. What I did not realize, however, was the story is true. The events actually happened at the Central Park Zoo. Even better still was the fact the illustrations were adorable. I thought it was a very cute, sweet (and not at all heavy handed) children’s book.
People need to understand children take from a situation what someone wants them too. It is like the kid who cries, but only after his or her parent looks troubled or rushes in with sympathy. Even in traumatic situations that rattle adults, children can often cope and react more calmly if they are not first told how awful it is. Same can be said of children’s books like this. If your kid likes penguins and pulls it off the shelf and brings it home, all they know is it is a book about a family of penguins. An adult can either make it a learning experience about a family situation that might not resemble their own or they can read it once and take it back to the library with little or no comment.
#7 The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
I will say this for the book, it certainly is a tale for boys. Not to say that little girls might not enjoy it, but the underpants, fart jokes, and trouble making speak to most little boys I know now and would have been a hit with little boys like my brother when we were younger a couple decades ago. Personally, I thought it was very gross and highly absurd. I was reading the Polk Street School series as a beginning reader, a far cry from this. I will say that despite the gross humor and questionable actions of the boys, they did what was right in the end and even showed some ingenuity by creating and selling their Captain Underpants comics.
That said, I am not nor have I ever been a boy. Teachers and librarians see the proof all the time, if a boy stops reading between 1st and 3rd grade, they are significantly less likely to read for pleasure the rest of their lives. If a series like this keeps them reading and it is working for a kid, I say let the child read it and hope it is a phase. Every kid goes through all kinds of them, this one at least might lead to a lifetime of reading.