Sandie Mourão will talk about one of her favourite banned books – ‘It’s a book’ by Lane Smith (Macmillan, 2010), and will be joined by Gail Ellis
For more info about this hilarious picturebook, read Sandie’s blog post:
Gail continues our May theme of banned picturebooks with Maurice Sendak’s seminal ‘Where The Wild Things Are’. This picturebook has sold around 20 million copies worldwide yet, when it was published by Harper & Row in 1963, it was banned because critics were worried that it would frighten children and that Max, the main character dressed up in his wolf costume and making mischief in his home, was sent to bed with no supper as a punishment by his mother. Critics were also concerned about the book’s supernatural themes which were considered to be psychologically damaging as Max’s imaginary adventure into a fantasy land was dark and frightening. The original 1973 Weston Woods animated version of the picturebook with its accompanying soundtrack and music contributes to this mood which you can listen to here
The book was, however, considered ground-breaking for representing children’s emotions, especially anger, and it won the Caldecott Medal in 1964. The story also addresses love, security, feeling out of control, relationships between adults and children and the power of the imagination. The story is inspired by Maurice Sendak’s own experience of growing up in Brooklyn and his relationship with his parents.
The narrative contains only nine sentences some of which are spread over six openings and some pages are wordless, so a great deal of the narrative is conveyed through the pictures.
‘Where The Wild Things Are’ can be used to develop emotional and visual literacy as children identify and plot Max’s emotions and feelings as the story unfolds by reading his facial expressions. Have they ever felt like Max: naughty, angry, out of control, frightened, lonely, happy, safe, loved? If they were a parent, how would they have punished Max for his mischief? Children can also explore the world of imagination and draw their own journey to a place where wild things are.
Ten wild facts about ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ here.
I (Tatia) work in primary teacher education in the Netherlands and believe that this month’s theme of banned picturebooks will be of great interest for student teachers. Whereas student teachers will be aware of Dutch primary schools restricting picturebook choices for religious reasons, they may be unfamiliar with the concept of a national or international ban for a specific picturebook as it occurs, for example, in the US. My focus will lie on discovering banned picturebooks and establishing possible reasons.
I have chosen two banned picturebooks to share with student teachers. The first one is ‘Sylvester and the Magic Pebble’ written and illustrated by William Steig and published by Windmill Books/Simon & Schuster in 1969. The second one is ‘The Undefeated’ written by Alexander Kwame, illustrated by Kadir Nelson and published by Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. 50 years lie between these two Caldecott Medal winning publications.
‘Sylvester and the Magic Pebble’ is an anthropomorphic story featuring a donkey called Sylvester who likes to collect pebbles. One day Sylvester finds a magic pebble and after turning into a rock to avoid danger, he eventually returns to his usual self and is reunited with his family.
‘The Undefeated’ is a poem which tells the story of ‘real people’. In image and poetry, it remembers ‘unforgettable, unafraid and unbowed, famous and overlooked figures from black history’ (BookTrust). The purpose of this story is to inspire and encourage black communities and to describe the toughness black Americans faced during slavery, and segregation.
The main reason I chose these two books is that they are both award-winning and very different in style and making. Student teachers may be able to guess that ‘The Undefeated’ might have been challenged or banned for reasons linked to race. Indeed, it was banned in various US classrooms as it was considered propaganda for teaching Black Lives Matter. However, the reason why ‘Sylvester and the Magic Pebble’ was banned in 1977 might be more difficult and will require careful reading of both text and image. In fact, the reason it was banned was because the police were depicted as pigs.
I believe this lesson will enrich student teachers on many levels as it will allow them to consider the reasons for censorship of picturebooks in certain contexts and to consider how to share banned picturebooks with their pupils. Thanks Tatia
The last contribution to our PEPELT May 2022 Banned Books theme is by Anneta Sadowska. She has chosen to talk about ‘Egg Drop‘ by Mini Grey (Cape, 2002). It’s a completely mad picturebook about an egg that wants to fly. Anneta considers ‘Egg Drop’ to be a cautionary tale, but in its picturebook form, and when shared with upper primary children, it becomes a platform for discussion and shared insights. Brilliant!