This is another of ALA’s most frequently challenged books. When a book is challenged it means someone (someone lame) has officially petitioned to have the book removed from library shelves. Sometimes libraries (lame libraries) capitulate. But usually libraries say “puh-leeeeeeeezzzzz” and the book stays. Luckily we’ve still got To Kill A Mockingbird.
I’m usually too lazy to look at blog stats. But last week I actually checked to see what the most-viewed pages on World’s Strongest Librarian are. It was a shock, and not an unpleasant one. Other than the home page of WSL–the first page you land on–nothing has received more views than my review of Where The Wild Things Are, another of the banned or challenged books.
This tells me a couple of things:
1. You’re all even cooler than I thought
2. Once in a while I actually write something that someone might actually type into a search engine. I’ve yet to get any search engine traffic hits on “freshwater cyclops” or “the singing stone” or “Josh Hanagarne–King of Kings.” But people are finding the book reviews, and that makes me happier than a freshwater cyclops could ever be.
To Kill A Mockingbird
This book might be the most beautiful thing out there. I don’t say book, because to me, To Kill A Mockingbird is an event, a force of nature–it’s a lot more than a book. I even like the movie more than I can explain.
The real magic of this story is that it is told through the eyes of a child, and it never strays from that perspective. Lots of books try to see things through a child’s eyes, and they either pull it off once in a while or just sound terrible.
Back in The Day, there was a rash of baby talk poetry. People were wild about lines like this:
Tind fwiends I pway extuse me,
For matin’ any speech
betause I is so ‘ittle
there ain’t much edutation
in such a ‘ittle head
besides I is so seepy
and wants to ‘do to bed
AAAAH! As bad as that is, I don’t think authors who try to write like children and then fail at it are much better. I can’t do it either, but I don’t try to write like a child, although Janette tells me I am getting more childish with each post. But what does she know? She wasn’t even clever enough to avoid marrying me.
But To Kill A Mockingbird is spot on in its portrayal of innocent children learning ugly and beautiful lessons about the world of adults.
Why To Kill A Mockingbird gets challenged
- It shows racism
- It has profanity in it
- It’s too awesome to be on the shelves
Any negative To Kill A Mockingbird book review is likely to focus on those first two points.
Those first two bullets are exactly why the book is so good. People who challenge TKAM say “I don’t want my children learning about racism or hearing profanity.” To those people, I would just suggest that children are going to learn about these things one way or another.
This is just my two cents, but I have a little boy now. I’m not going to pretend that I can protect Max from racism and profanity. I also can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to teach him about in on the timetable I’d like. I mean, when is the right time? But the longer I wait, the longer the chance that he’ll find out on his own, on someone else’s terms.
If he was to read To Kill A Mockingbird, he could see things in terms he could understand–through the eyes of another child. At no point does Harper Lee say “Racism is bad” or “Rape is an abomination” or “Adults can be horrible and violent and disgraceful and honorable.” But the stories she tells in the book say exactly these things. I feel that they resonate on a level children could understand–or, if not, they might prompt the questions that would suggest to me that the time was right to talk to Max about certain things.
In some ways, To Kill A Mockingbird reminds me of the best Kurt Vonnegut. Kurt was the master of indicting humanity, but he rarely spelled things out. He would show us a story that said it better than words could–and I was always helpless to find anything else in his work besides what he wanted to.
That’s my long-winded way of saying “Harper Lee I love you and I wish you would have kept writing but if you only had one book in you I’m glad it was this one.”
And, if you’re looking for another book I read as a kid that’s still relevant to me today check out this Where The Wild Things Are book review.
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