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We’re listening to Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing in the car. It was published in 1972 and I read it as a kid. I have fond memories of the whole Judy Blume oeuvre. But listening to it with my kids, I have to say I’m shocked that it’s still allowed in children’s libraries. At one point, Peter explains that his dad has told him what to do when he (inevitably) gets mugged as he goes to and from Central Park alone: give the muggers whatever they ask for and try not to get hit in the head.
I must have blacked out that horror from my memory. How could I let my children hear such dangerous words? Then I started thinking about all the other hazards lurking on our book shelves.
In The Courage of Sarah Noble, the eight year old protagonist is left with a newly met Native American family while her father goes to fetch the rest of the family to their new home in the Connecticut wilderness. I mean, they barely speak the same language,much less know one another. And her father is gone for weeks!
In Sign of the Beaver, 12-year-old Matt James Hallowell is left alone–completely alone–for an entire summer. And I don’t want to spoil it, but things get pretty dicey. I was biting my nails.
In The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, 12-year-old Claudia and her 9-year-old brother Jamie run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Running away AND endangering priceless artifacts!
And then there’s A Wrinkle in Time. Those kids leave the solar system! With three total strangers! Who aren’t even human!
Don’t even get me started on My Side of the Mountain. (All those books have won awards. Can you believe that sort of recklessness was encouraged?)
In a world where people panic over children walking to the park unsupervised and neighbors call Child Protective Services for letting a kid play outside on their own, it’s surprising that these books are allowed anywhere near kids. Forget banning Tom Sawyer because of the offensive language, that whole cave scenario will have parents clutching pearls and demanding a bonfire be built to purge ourselves of the dangerous words.
Let you think this is paranoia, remember vintage Sesame Street is no longer considered appropriate for children. That’s probably the future of these books: nostalgia curios for adults of a certain age rather than soul-forming literature for impressionable children.
Of course, those of us who love these books and want to pass them on to their children have hopefully developed just the adventurous, creative and rebellious spirit to do so no matter what the nannies say. We’ll carve out hidden compartments in the walls and safe spaces under loose floorboards. We’ll teach our children secret passwords and unbreakable codes. Because if there’s one thing these stories teach, it’s that if you really want an adventure, you have to take risks.
To quote a great book, “Keep up your courage.”
What is your favorite subversive children’s book?