Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Learning to Blume Where We are Planted

I couldn’t continue discussing kid lit without talking about Judy Blume. I don’t know anyone my age that did not read her growing up – especially girls. She had a knack of talking about some tough topics with humor and compassion. And she had a way of making me want to be her main characters.

Judy Blume was born in 1938. She has sold in excess of 80 million novels for teens, tackling racism, bullying, masturbation, sex, divorce, menstruation, you name it! She has won over 90 literary awards. Despite this, her work has been censored and has been noted as one of the most frequently challenged authors by the American Library Association. Five of her books are on the top 100 most frequently challenged books list.

The first four books of Ms. Blume’s that I read were probably Blubber, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, and of course, the controversial Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Deenie was a favorite, as well, and Forever was probably my first real romance! As we got older, I remember the excitement of sneaking peeks at the adult book, Wifey– a book that my mom would have definitely said I was not ready for! 🙂

Ms. Blume has been very outspoken about censorship over the years. There is an article on her website where she talks about someone calling her a communist over the phone in reference to her having written Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Anyone who read this book, even when they were much younger, will be hard-pressed to recall any communist leanings in the writing. It dealt with religion and menstruation.

I completely agree with Ms. Blume when she says that censorship grows out of fear and fear is contagious. It isn’t just sex and language that parents worry about, but anything different from them. The taboos range from Satanism to Paganism, sexual experience to sexual orientation, drugs and alcohol to simply missing curfew, racism to politics.

I recently read an article that offensive racial slang terms in Mark Twain’s classic books are being written out of new editions. This really makes me mad. I don’t personally use or condone the slang terms in question. But, if a person doesn’t like a slang term that was perfectly reflective of not only the time it was written (late 1800s) and the time it was trying to convey, they shouldn’t read the book. But to have classic literature rewritten to appease the censors is just wrong.

When a group of fearful people get up in arms about a book, it usually makes me want to read it more. I guess I have always been that way. Hence, my sneaking chapters from Wifey when I was way too young to really understand it. Still, it really frosts me to hear people banning books in this day and age. It reflects a close-mindedness that does nothing but instill fear and bigotry in children.

When I see pictures and videos on the news of people actually burning books, I feel a shiver a fear run down my spine. I ask myself, who the book police are and who they truly represent. And then I wonder what comes next.

If a banned book is truly kept out of the hands of children – a challenge if the kids are anything like I was – then the kids will never get the opportunity to learn about lives that are different from their own. Schools have historically been quick to allow this form of censorship at the slightest whisper of controversy. I have read recent articles where schools are teaching that the Holocaust was fictitious. (That really pisses me off!) If that is happening in history class, I can only imagine that any books, fiction or nonfiction, about that time and place in history are soon to be banished from the libraries and hands of the children. How can we expect kids to know history, to learn from the mistakes of our history, and to make sure to not repeat those mistakes when we ban books?

I have read many banned books over the years, and feel I am richer for it. Even Harry Potter with his incredible fan base came under fire. How can we possibly allow our kids to read about witchcraft!? In the case of Judy Blume, reality was feared; with Harry Potter, the fear was fantasy. In either case, I am sure the arguments come from uninformed people who have never actually read the books they rally to ban. As far as I am concerned, banned books and censorship is a direct attack on our Constitutional right to free speech. Worse than that it is a direct attack on humanity and it is both the reader who will never be given the choice and the writer who will question and doubt everything they put into words that suffer.

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