When I was studying for my Masters in Reading and Language Arts I took a fascination in Picture Books not only because I knew that someday I would be a mother but also because I loved using them in my middle school classroom. I used Rose Blanche when we read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Other Side when we read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry . My students loved the analysis and the change of pace.
It is obvious that some of the most controversial picture books were not originally created for children’s eyes and ears but rather, for an adult (and those are not even listed here) However, some of those make their way to children’s book shelves because they are picture books and some library workers don’t know the difference.
The ones I have listed here are are worthy of a second glance and of a good read. It’s just unfortunate that some people don’t think so.
- And Tango Makes Three- Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell: Tango is adopted by two gay penguins. “A Southwick, MA, school librarian says she fears losing her job after introducing a class of second graders to And Tango Makes Three (S & S, 2005)—the fictionalized children’s picture book based on two real-life male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo. In the book, the penguins share a nest like other penguin couples and together nurture a fertilized egg, then raise the chick.”
- In the Night Kitchen - Maurice Sendak: A young boy is naked. “In the Night Kitchen (1970) proved controversial on its release, as several well-meaning librarians and teachers reacted to Mickey’s nudity by removing the book from the shelves and/or covering the child’s offending genitalia with marker, tape, or other method of obscuring it. The book continues to appear on lists of banned or challenged books, somewhat to the consternation of those who can find nothing disturbing or “sexual” in the nudity of such a young child as Mickey appears to be.”
- Sylvester and the Magic Pebble- William Steig: The Illinois Police Association objected to the policemen pigs.
- Rose Blanche- Roberto Innocenti: The intent of this book is to show the horrors of war. So, is it a children’s book?
- The Stupids Have a Ball - Harry Allard, and James Marshall, 1978: Describes families in a derogatory manner and children may think they can disobey their parents.
- Nappy Hair - Carolivia Herron: Taken as a racist book, a 27 year old teacher transfers schools after reading this book to her class.
- The Lorax - Dr. Seuss: Metaphor for the environment when people did not want to hear it.
- Smoky Night- Eve Bunting: Urban violence and race.
- Daddy’s Roommate - Michael Willhoite: Daddy has a live in roommate.
- Where the Wild Things Are- Maurice Sendak: Witchcraft and supernatural elements as well as a spirited child.
- Heather Has Two Mommies-Leslie Newman: Two lesbians as parents of a 3 year old girl -has been challended for promoting a dangerous and ungodly life-style.
- The Story of Babar -Jean de Brunhoff: Racist and disparaging to animals.
- The Rabbits’ Wedding- Garth Williams, 1958: An “interracial” rabbit couple get married.
- Little Red Riding Hood- Jacob Grimm- 1891: There is a bottle of wine in the girl’s basket. (I can’t find a quote for this that doesn’t state more than what I said.)
- The Five Chinese Brothers -Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese, 1938: Racial stereotypes and violent plots to execute the five brothers.
“The book raised controversy among several school districts and organizations for its satirical portrayal of the police as pigs, and as a result was banned in parts of the United States.”
“To teach the impact of the Nazi regime on the children of Europe, Roberto Innocenti’s Rose Blanche is a powerful instructional resource. Although seemingly written as a children’s picture book, and recommended for grades five through nine, it is entirely appropriate for older adolescents as well as adults.”
“The book celebrates the differences and unique attributes of black people. Yet, when white teacher Ruth Sherman read this book to her third-graders she was pilloried by black and Hispanic community members who had not read the book.”
“It has become a popular metaphor for those concerned about the human impact on the environment.”
“The book, in my view, oversimplifies (even for children) the difficulties of living in a multicultural society, the difficulties that exist between Koreans and African-Americans in LA and elsewhere, and again denies any sort of social reason behind the riots. It ends up, I think, by implying that Rodney King’s famous line of “Can’t we just get along?” is sufficient to solve racism in this country–which it isn’t. ”
“The books’ clear goal is to show homosexual relationships as a real-world complement to the mom-and-dad model.”
“Having a story about a small child throwing a tantrum for the benefit of his mother was not a story you were going to find in children’s literature before the 1960s, because children weren’t supposed to yell at their mothers. The idea that children experience rage and that it’s a natural part of their psyche was a new idea to children’s picture books. This is why some people were afraid of Where the Wild Things Are when it was first published.”
“…they can comfort a worried youngster or help any child understand that not all families in today’s world are built the same way. At the same time, they neither aim for nor achieve the transporting power of fiction to change a child’s inner life. No child is going to love them with a passion. So no adult need approach them with fear and loathing.”
“The books are written in a charming and appealing style with an attention to detail which captivates both children and adults. Underneath they could be seen as a justification for colonialism, with the benefits of French civilization being visited on the rustic African elephant kingdom. Some writers, notably Herbert R. Kohl and Vivian Paley have argued that, although superficially delightful, the stories are politically and morally offensive.”
“The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams, was transferred from the open shelves to the reserved shelves at the Montgomery (Alabama) Public Library in 1959 because an illustration shows a black buck rabbit with a white doe rabbit. Such miscegenation, stated an editor in Orlando, was “brainwashing . . . as soon as you pick up the book and open its pages you realize these rabbits are integrated.”"
“The Five Chinese Brothers was banned when parents expressed concern at the Salem Public Library that the book’s “racial stereotypes were demeaning to Chinese People(1990).” The book was also challenged in a California grade school because “it contains descriptions of violent plots to execute five brothers(1998).”"