What Does Censoring Children’s Literature do to Critical Thinking?

It saddened me to read in the news that a book by one of my favorite authors, Patricia Polacco was restricted in a Utah school district on Monday.

Patricia Polacco is a prolific children’s writer and for some of my readers we engage in an author study featuring her books. She tends to write from personal experiences about family and friends and her themes vary widely. Some of her most famous books include:

Thank you Mr. Falker, a book about a young girl with dyslexia who realizes her potential thanks to a fifth grade teacher named Mr. Falker.  The epilogue is quite touching when you realize that the girl with dyslexia is the author.

Pink and Say, a book about two boys (one black and one white) during the Civil War. Another touching book.

Mr. Lincoln’s Way, a book about overcoming bullying.

Thundercake, a book about how the author overcame her fear of thunderstorms.

The book that was banned was called In Our Mothers’ House, which is a story about family or three raised by two mothers. I always worry about children’s books that may contain ‘issues’. Often they can be preachy and end up not being very good literature. This book is simply a good story. We had it in our library, so I read it to my students.

I asked them why they thought this book might be banned for children, and it was quite refreshing to hear their responses. The overwhelming response was, “I think some adults don’t think children can handle stories with sad endings.” Only two children identified the two moms as the possible reason and one child said, “I think it might be about the two moms because in some places, they just don’t get it yet.”

I try really hard not to provide any answers for my students. They need to analyze and think for themselves. I enjoy opportunities to do this. If books are censored, how can children develop critical thinking skills? This doesn’t mean I need to read every book on a banned list, but it’s important to get kids thinking.



6 thoughts on “What Does Censoring Children’s Literature do to Critical Thinking?

  1. To play devil’s advocate, should we restrict books on the glories of fascism, or how North Korea is really a worker’s paradise?

    Utah is (obviously) a pretty religiously conservative state. If the book had been “Jane Has Two Daddies”, it would draw equal criticism.

    And do we need to start confusing 4- to 8-year olds with conflicting values?

    • A relevant, appropriate and thought-provoking topic – and so entirely suitable for younger children in my view. I admire you for covering it.

  2. I now want to read this book. I have yet to, but I am very familiar with the author’s other wonderful titles that you mention above. I honestly would be curious as to your opinion about the book Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, which is a title still published and read to children in public schools. In my professional opinion, it should be banned. I wrote about it. Read if you like. http://thepicturebookpusher.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/the-literacy-developme/

  3. The funny thing is, I practice censorship often, in my classroom. I change words, and adlib content that concerns slavery, and the Civil Rights movement. I want to build resiliency and empowerment, in my first-graders. I teach in an urban school setting, and filling the children’s heads with negative facts about how people used to wrongly treat them deters their positive self-esteem, and molds them to believe that they are less than the majority. Timing is everything, when it comes to truths. I want them to be able to handle the facts, before they are taught them. I add a lot of positive adjectives to stories: strong, beautiful, wise – words like these. I also change verbs in stories. For example, in stories about Harriet Tubman, I do not say that she “ran away”, or was a “runaway slave”. Those phrases have negative connotations, implying that she did something wrong. I say that she, “took her freedom”, or “was wise enough to leave her ignorant, silly, owners.” She was not a “runaway slave”. She was a “woman who knew how to live”. I think this practice is completely kosher, for that is the beauty and power of picture books.

  4. I have heard the view that Shrek 2 and Shrek 3 in their positive portrayal of a transsexual character- she is no more ridiculed than anyone else, and she is one of the good people- is a bad thing, because children will see her and just accept her like as normal. Whereas if they do not see her like until they are adult, disgust may be inculcated.

    My argument against a book eulogising North Korea would be that it praised Oppression. Oppression is a worthy moral criterion. Disliking gay people is itself oppressive. So at least I may be morally consistent! And, show the book praising North Korea to older children, with a variety of books about the place. Yes- critical thinking.

  5. I remember while volunteering for the library, I was ordered to look through all the children’s books and remove any ‘questionable’ content. Their specific example was, “anything with two dads is an automatic removal.”

    Left that library after only a week!

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