Beyond books long noted for raising the hackles of literary Neanderthals - including such works as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye - there were some rather odd works on the list.
Not because they are known for being works of unquestionable value to society, as with the three books above, but because they stand out for being rather simplistic, if enjoyable, kids books.
They include: Goosebumps, a series of children’s horror fiction novels; The Stupids, a series of books about a family that draws its humor from the fact that the family is incompetent to the point of confusing the most simple concepts and tasks; Captain Underpants, a series about fourth graders and the aptly named superhero they accidentally create by hypnotizing their principal; The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, a spinoff of Captain Underpants, and the Junie B. Jones series.
With four little girls clamouring to be read to during the past few years, I’m especially familiar with the last entry. Of the more than two dozen Junie B. Jones books that author Barbara Park has written, I’ve read at least 10 to my girls and perhaps as many as 15.
Apparently, though, I’d snoozed over something explosive or subversive. Repeatedly. How else to explain Junie B. Jones’ place on the list, alongside the likes of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Huxley’s Brave New World and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five?
Wikipedia describes Park’s series as exemplifying “many of the comical aspects of childhood: fear of monsters, grammatical errors, dealing with siblings, the first day of school and innocent crushes.”
Junie B. is a rambunctious first grader who mangles phrases and has a typical child’s misperception of things she is unfamiliar with, such as being afraid of roosters because “they can peck your head into a nub,” and clowns because “they are not normal people.”
Still unsure why this innocuous series would be banned or challenged (pressure from the American Rooster lobby?), I turned to Nexis.
The best I could do was a 2008 story by Sylvester Brown of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who wrote: “… people say Park’s character encourages ‘disobedience,’ uses words like ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ and takes liberties with traditional spelling.”
In the words of Junie B. herself: Wowie wow wow!
I’d like to catch a glimpse of the parents who had so little to do with their time and so little self respect that they actually thought it a good idea to file a protest against an entertaining children’s series.
One wonders how they found time to put down Anna Karenina and The Return of the Native to take a stand against disobedient fictional characters, derogatory words and those that “take liberties with traditional spelling.”
Let’s hope these protectors of prose continue their quixotic quest until they rid the land of Junie B. and replace her with something more obedient, that draws the line at words such as “dumb” and “stupid,” and resists the unspeakable crime of having characters speak in the sometimes-jumbled language common to 6-year olds.
Perhaps The Big Book of Gerunds or Pig Iron Production in the Soviet Union, 1929-34 or Dick and Jane Attend a Book Burning will do wonders to stimulate a love of reading among elementary school-age students.
The whole idea is to get kids to pick up a book and enjoy the experience, so they can become better readers.
If you’ve got nothing better to do than complain about harmless children’s books, perhaps you should pick up another volume from the American Library Association’s list of banned books: Fahrenheit 451.