November 9, 2012

"Obscene" Children's Books

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” 
― G.K. Chesterton

I may have mentioned this before, so tune me out if you've heard the story.

My mother felt that there were certain books that every educated person had to read and, because I home schooled for much of elementary school, I began her reading list at an early age. In all fairness it was in part that I was home schooled and in part because I was raised in a home where you read a book instead of watching TV and by the time I was seven it was getting hard to find challenging novels.

Anyway, I began this reading list of culturally significant literature early and had finished Beowulf, Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island (to name a few) by the time I was eleven. These books expanded my understanding of the world, challenged my perceptions, stretched my imagination, and encouraged my use of new vocabulary. They shaped the person I became and never once did my mother deny me a book based on content, trusting that whatever my age I would absorb something useful.

This memory was resurrected because I'm right now sitting in the children's section at my new local library looking for art books. I'd found a pile, way more then I could check out, and claimed a small table to sort through them, when I overheard a woman sitting a few tables away. She's at the library with what I assume are her three children; a young boy of about 3, a girl in a school uniform that looks 11, and a boy that could pass for anything from 10 to 12. The woman was loudly reprimanding her daughter for selecting a book which the mother felt was inappropriate, the tale of a young girl who needs to lie and steal to save her friends from a gang of kidnappers in what sounded like a very Harry Potter like world. I know the synopsis because the mother made her daughter read it aloud, interrupting her with reproachful remarks and ending the conversation with "I worry about you if you're alright reading a story about a girl who lies and steals."

I was a little taken aback. After all, is that story line so much worse than Kidnapped? Amazingly it didn't stop with that book either, one after the other both the older boy and girl brought books for their mother's critique and one by one they were shot down. Even the little boy was told not to look at a young children's book about monsters which (and I hope I'm wrong) sounded a lot like Where the Wild Things Are. Every book was in some way "obscene" or "grotesque", adjectives not often used in the children's section of a public library.

Protect your children, make sure they grow up in a safe environment, but let them explore! Don't deny them a book about pirates just because pirates can be scary or a book where someone dies just because death is frightening. Above everything else, don't make them feel ashamed of the things that interest them.

Rox In The Box by The Decemberists on Grooveshark


  1. I feel sorry for those children.

  2. That was nicely written. I, too, started reading adult novels at a young age. It created a world of knowledge and understanding that remain a stream of joy and happiness in my life. Thus I encouraged my children to explore literature, music and visual arts

    1. Visual art is another much censored for of expression. I've stood in many museums and listened to parents hurry their children away from a great work of art simply because the subject was nude.


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