I’ve been seeing a lot of articles lately about books getting banned from schools and libraries after parents complain about the content. It always makes me sad, but usually because I disagree with the specific complaint. But I’ve been racking my brains wondering should any topics be off-limits for children’s books, and in the end, I’m not so sure. What do you think?
One of the books that particularly caused a stir this year was the latest Captain Underpants novel, which included a gay character. The reference to his sexuality was minuscule: when the two protagonists see into their own futures, one sees himself with a wife and kids, and the other sees himself with a husband and kids. That’s literally all it says.
The fact that parents got up in arms about this seems ridiculous to me: how can a child be too young to understand a man marrying a man, but old enough to understand a man marrying a woman? It’s not like children are born with an inherent and unshakeable belief that men typically marry women in our society (when I was little, I thought “girls should marry girls and boys should marry spiders”); traditional Western marriage is a construct that we teach them about. So let’s just…not teach them that, and teach them the truth instead?
Of course, it’s easy for me to say this, because I believe in marriage equality. So what if a children’s book included something that I don’t support? What if, for example, a children’s book included a casual reference to a romantic relationship between an adult and a young child? Hmmm.
Another book that pissed parents off this year was the “graphic” Muppets book For Every Child, A Better World, which teaches children that food, shelter, access to clean water and healthcare are privileges that not all children have. Is an illustration of a child living in a box in the rain too upsetting for young children, or is important that they are exposed to this?
What if a children’s book tackled rape? Murder? At what point does it stop being educational and become overwhelming?
I’ve never had a child, so I can’t talk about the best way to raise one—but my gut instinct at the moment is that honesty is the best policy. Terrible things do happen, so perhaps it’s easier for children to learn about them right from the start. Children have a wonderful and non-judgemental way of making sense of the world, so perhaps they could offer a perspective on these topics that even we had never thought of before.
What do you think? Should any topics be off-limits for children’s books?
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