Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Children’s Literature and Banned Books: A Librarian Reflects

When I was asked to contribute a blog post in celebration of Banned Books Week, I immediately thought of one of my favorite childhood authors, Alvin Schwartz. Schwartz penned, among other pieces, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, illustrated by Stephen Gammel, along with In a Dark, Dark Room, published in 1984 and illustrated by Dirk Zimmer. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was listed as the most frequently challenged book between 1990 and 1999 by the American Library Association. 

I began my first year as a (lifelong) student in 1987, and began repeatedly checking out In a Dark, Dark Room in 1988 as a 1st grader at a new school. It was one of the books I would pick out in addition to my “normal” reading load. I had few friends, but excelled at reading, and found this book to be just quirky enough to take my mind off the transition to a new school. 

Image courtesy of HarperCollins
My favorite short story from In a Dark, Dark Room was “The Green Ribbon”. The accompanying illustration of a little girl with a ribbon tied around her throat haunted me, and led to deeper discussions with a close friend about life, death, and youth. We would lie around for hours closely examining pictures of the young girl as we discussed what was implied, but not explicitly discussed, in the story. This particular friend was the one other student at school that frequently requested In a Dark, Dark Room from the library. I kept tabs on the book by pestering the librarian about the due date, and would sneak into the library early in the morning with hopes of beating my friend to the book the day after it was checked in.  In addition to her normal responsibilities, the librarian coached us through the idea of sharing books with each other, and also proposed the idea of community responsibility. She encouraged us both to check out the book less frequently so that other students at our school might have a chance to enjoy it. 

In a Dark, Dark Room was the first book I truly loved and wanted to keep to myself. It was the first time I remember having the desire to hoard a book for pleasure. This experience is also my earliest memory of exchanging and discussing ideas about a book with a peer. Until reading Schwartz, I most often discussed books I was reading with adults. Reading Schwartz ushered me into a new and different level of reading as an individual, and showed me the value of building a learning community. 

I look forward to sharing and hearing stories from students, faculty, and staff as we celebrate Banned Books Week. Feel free to share your stories with us in person, via our Facebook page, or, in the comments section of this post.

For an interview with Alvin Schwartz visit this link: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/lion_and_the_unicorn/v012/12.1.marcus.html
Image credits: http://browseinside.harpercollinschildrens.com/index.aspx?isbn13=9781559942331

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