Censoring Children’s Books: Whom does it benefit?

August 10, 2009 at 11:03 am Leave a comment

Forgive me for expounding on children’s books again; you’d think I’d get sick of them after several Fairy Tale Fridays and miscellaneous children’s book reviews, in conjunction with a dissertation on a popular YA fantasy trilogy. But as I was trying to think of a good topic for today’s post, I found myself wondering if Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear (or, more broadly, his Nursery Crime series) would be appropriate for children.

But then I had to decide what ‘appropriate’ meant. Any definition of that word naturally would exclude some children’s classics from the canon. A happy ending? Cross the entire Winnie-the-Pooh series off the list. Clear moral code? Forget about Grimm’s or Perrault’s fairy tales, especially if you’re also going to demand that children’s books have no sex or violence.

Bruno Bettelheim (sick of hearing his name yet?) and John Steinbeck agree that children don’t mind a bit of ‘bad stuff’ in their stories. Bettelheim argues that stories where all the characters are good confuse children, because they know that they are not always good, an argument validated by Steinbeck’s earlier writing that he had no trouble understanding the ‘bad’ knights in Le Morte Darthur, because he knew that sometimes he himself was bad. And, according to this article in The New York Times, children as young as two and three years of age can tell pretend from reality — who is to say that young children couldn’t recognize a happy ending as unrealistic?

Often, bowdlerizing children’s books is merely a convenience for parents who don’t want to have to answer questions about why Little Red Riding Hood would eat her grandmother. Sometimes this mild form of censorship (mild in my opinion) comes from a desire to protect children, a derivative of the Victorian idea that children are inherently innocent and must be protected from the evils of the world…but I think anyone who has done any babysitting would have a hard time believing that theory.

So what do you think? Where should we draw the line of appropriateness for children’s reading material? And, if we draw a line, for whom are we drawing it — the children or ourselves?

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Entry filed under: Children and Young Adult, Musings and Essays.

That didn’t really go as planned… Transgression Time!

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