Banned Books Awareness: “It’s So Amazing” & “It’s Perfectly Normal”

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Soon, in the not-too-distant future, when the book burners finally get their way, life will become monotonous and bland. In this very real and likely future world all thought, all individuality, all creativity will cease to exist because the self-righteous morality police will have run out of things to complain about.

Like noted children’s book author Robie Harris, for example.

Her whimsical tales about the facts of life have been met with clinical, literary, and parental acclaim; but she also has gained public attention for being one of the most banned authors of the 21st century.

Publisher’s Weekly called 1996’s It’s Perfectly Normal (for ages 10-14) an “intelligent, amiable, and carefully researched book [that] frankly explains the physical, psychological, emotional, and social changes that occur during puberty;” adding that the watercolor and pencil art “reinforces a message that bodies come in all sizes, shapes, and colors- and that each variation is ‘perfectly normal’.”

Her 1999 follow-up, It’s So Amazing: a Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families (for ages 7-up), is about pregnancy and childbirth, and uses the formulaic imagery of cartoon birds and bees to present simple explanations about not-so-easy topics such as sexual development, love, reproduction, adoption, sexually transmitted diseases, and more. A curious bird and an embarrassed bee act as comic and straight man in charming scenes like when the newly-enlightened bee proclaims: “So the fetus doesn’t grow where the pizza goes!”

Though the books have been highly honored by the ALA, Booklist, Child Magazine, The New York Times, Planned Parenthood, and Publishers’ Weekly, controversy arises from the open discussions in them about homosexuality, abortion, sexuality, detailed pictures of human anatomy, and sex education in general.

It’s Perfectly Normal was the ALA’s #1 Most Challenged Book of 2005, and It’s So Amazing closed out the top 10 that same year. It’s Perfectly Normal currently sits at the #12 spot on the ALA’s 100 Most Banned Books of the 21st century and It’s So Amazing joins in at #37.

In 2002, residents of Montgomery County, Texas, wanted the books banned from the local public library system. Montgomery County Library Director, Jerilynn Adams Williams, fought the measure for three months before both books were finally allowed to return to the shelves. Williams won the 2003 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award for her efforts.

In 2004 they were moved from the young adult to the adult section of the Fort Bend County Library in Richmond, Texas; and moved to the restricted section of the Fort Bend School District’s media centers after a resident complained via an email about the books.

In 2006 they were removed from the Holt Middle School library in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in response to a parent’s complaint that it was too sexually explicit. A review committee’s later recommendation returned them to general circulation with “some limits on student access.” Also in 2006 they were moved to the Reference section of Northern Hills Elementary School’s media center in Onalaska, Wisconsin because a parent complained about its “frank yet kid-friendly discussion of reproductive topics.”

I guess being honest and kid-friendly are big no no’s in Onalaska.

The oft-challenged author, Judy Blume, said that “Kids are really good at knowing what they can handle. What can happen if a young reader picks up a book he/she isn’t yet ready for? Questions, maybe. Usually that child puts down the book and says, ‘Boring.’ or ‘I’m not ready for this’.”

Many who speak out against censorship readily admit that there are some things that they would not want their own children reading (myself included), but it is their choice as a parent to decide what is and is not appropriate. No one else can or should make that decision for them.

The American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights states, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents- and only parents- have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children- and only their children- to library resources.”

Benjamin Franklin once remarked that “without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” The book burners challenge the truth out of fear, effectively chipping away everyone’s freedom, including their own; and those who sit idly by and allow those few to dictate to the many will have given away their freedom willingly and with a smile. The creative spark of the imagination then flickers and fades away from the public consciousness.

Sources: American Library Association, Marshall University, Amazon
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

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