Last night, we read Biscuit and The Color Kittens and Where the Wild Things Are. Sometimes it’s Clifford or Ninja Turtles or Goodnight, Moon.
I read banned books. And I read them to my son.
I say this loudly. I wear it like a badge. I write it.
Because books teach us empathy, imagination, critical thinking, and open innumerable worlds. Because books allow someone who we might never meet, perhaps because they’re on the other-side of the world and perhaps because they’ve been dead 200 years, to speak to us. Because books create a multiplicity of voices in a world that pushes master narratives. Because books show us the capacity of our language. Because there’s pleasure in the forbidden.
Because learning to read and having the freedom to decide what to read are freedoms that have been denied many people based on their gender, race, religion, and socio-economic status. Because one of the tools of oppression is banning literature and language.
And so, I read. I gobble up books. And I’m trying to teach Little Jedi to do the same.
I’ve been reading out loud to him since he was in utero. I’d often read sections of my thesis materials, both my research and my own writing, aloud. And then, when he was born and spent 5 weeks in the NICU, I read aloud to him during visits. And so did his grandparents. We kept books in his part of the unit, and we’d sit in a rocking chair, draped in our hospital gowns to cover our clothes. Sometimes he’d be swaddled and held while we were reading; sometimes we would read aloud through the incubator where he slept.
There was so little we could do for him. But we could read.
So we did. And as he grew a little older, left that place behind, learned to walk, started to speak and think and act, the stories changed. But they were there. They have always been there.
We laugh when Max chases the little white dog at the beginning of Where the Wild Things Are. Max’s dog looks a lot like our little terrier/border collie mix, Tank. But the first time we read it, Little Jedi stopped at that place and said, rather solemnly, “he shouldn’t chase that dog with a fork.” No, Little Jedi, Max should probably not be chasing that dog with a fork. But little boys do sometimes chase their dogs, and they do sometimes run about with things they shouldn’t.
Then, when Max’s room becomes a forest, we’re both always in a bit of wide-eyed appreciation. Sendak’s art is just so good. And when the Wild Things rumpus, Little Jedi usually has a good rumpus as well. But not last night. He was tired, so tired, and he wondered how Max knew the Wild Things didn’t love him best of all, and why they didn’t give Max anything to eat, and whether there wasn’t one with wings to just fly Max back home.
And as always, the return home was Little Jedi’s triumphant moment. More than any other part of the book, he loves the last page, that page empty save the 5 words: “…and it was still hot.” There’s something about that return home and a warm supper waiting for Max that just makes Little Jedi incredibly happy.
And so it makes me happy. I get to talk to Little Jedi about all sorts of things, from monsters to forests to love to running about the house with a fork, and I get to do it by reading him this book that was written in 1963. This book that was already 21, old enough to drink, when I was born, that spawned my own questions about good and bad and monsters and love.
Where the Wild Things Are typifies the things that are often banned or challenged about children’s books: a depiction of rage or complex feelings; monsters and/or talking animals; magic; scariness. But the world is already a scary place, and children already have complex emotions. Monsters exist, even if they don’t look like the ones Sendak drew.
Books give us ways to encounter our monsters without cost. They open the doors for conversations. They provide continuity between human experiences when there seems to be none. To ban a book is to silence a voice, to close off a line of thinking and inquiry, to shut out what is difficult and thus what might be most rewarding.
Don’t shut out the Wild Things. Invite them in. Live with them. Read them.