Thursday, June 9, 2011

Birthday Suits and Banned Books: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAURICE SENDAK!

(Background : I'm reading Banned, Censored and Challenged Books for my Summer reading and the 30 Days of Reading challenge via Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis.)

I get it now.  I get why so many Christians love to hate Judy Blume and Maurice Sendak.  

First a disclaimer for the complainers.  Just because I get it, doesn’t mean that I condone it – ie - burning and banning books. It means that I still have a lot of deprogramming to do. 

I’m not here to defend whether or not I think an author is worth $20.  There are deep emotional attachments to Sendak and Blume out there (separate response for Blume coming soon) – so beware that I have no emotional attachment to them beyond remembering them as authors who were off-limits. And believe me, that is enough.

Sendak: pedophilia and birthday suits. There I said it.  If you listen to enough Christian radio and are surrounded by people who legitimately fear dirty old men – it takes about 2 seconds to figure out why Sendak's In the Night Kitchen so often shows up on the banned list.  Do I need to spell out that pictures of naked little boys surrounded by creepy old men who want to use him as milk is going to be a huge turn off to a lot of parents out there? 

I didn’t even realize until I checked it out that this was the same author as Where the Wild Things Are – another book I haven’t read – because it encouraged bad behavior in children, or something along those lines. 

As for In the Night Kitchen - I’d be more concerned about a parent freaking out about the book because of the nudity than a parent who didn't freak out over the nudity.  

Because hopefully little kids don’t understand why parents freak out about things like pedophilia.  Also, little kids who get the message that being naked is bad – is unfortunate. 

Nevertheless, it's unfortunate when parents are na├»ve to the fact that we live in a weird, sometimes creepy world - and blessing or a curse - some parents totally don't get why there is controversy over the book.  There is a balance there, somewhere – which involves not instilling fear in a child based on the fear of the parent.  Parental Fear gets out of hand very quickly.

Speaking of fear, it scares me that I know exactly what is going through the head of parents who ask to have this book removed from libraries and classrooms. Fear rubs off on kids – and in the case of this book, I discovered that I still have that visceral response I was taught to have.  As in – WTF Sendak?

But I sure as heck wouldn’t ban it or discourage a child from reading it.  The pictures, though Freudian as hell to an adult, are pretty.  Pretty pictures are important for growing imaginations… especially when children are trying to work out dark nightmarish thoughts. 

How does Focus on the Family approach these banned books?

First off, they believe that banned books are a bunch of overblown hooey – overreactions by liberal librarians.

Second off, they have book reviews down to a system, filed under "Protecting Your Children." Check out the Categories:
  • Plot Summary
  • Christian beliefs
  • Authority roles
  • Other belief systems
  • Profanity/Graphic violence
  • Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality
  • Awards
  • Discussion topics  - If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen is not among their online reviews.  Neither is Where the Wild Things Are.  What does this mean?  Probably that you can’t publish every review of every book out there. Or that I'm not looking hard enough.

However, the reaction to In the Night Kitchen by librarians and parents has been so strong against the nudity as described in this article, (Thirty Years without Diapers: Expurgating and Censoring Maurice Sendak's "In the Night Kitchen" by Matthew Heintzelman ), that Focus on the Family probably no longer needs to spend too much time, erm, focusing on it.   

If you don’t talk about it, maybe it will go away, right?

Final conclusion? I’m an adult who makes a habit out of poking fun at Freudian slips that peek out below the hemline.  I can’t help but read this book from that context – and know that the author was an adult with similar knowledge when writing/illustrating it.  I doubt Sendak intended these types of responses... or at least he was smart enough to know that these responses say more about the person having the allergic reaction, than the artwork itself.  

Beyond that – I don’t really care.  If kids or parents are disturbed by the nudity – let that be an opening for an honest conversation between parent and child.  Don’t let it be a reason to censor it by drawing clothes on the boy.  And absolutely, don’t let it be a reason to keep this book from other people’s kids. 

Happy Coincidence: Maurice Sendak is celebrating his Birthday today-ish, June 10th!

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