Banned Books Week: They corrupted me in the 4th grade

We’re half way through Banned Books Week, and I have to say that I’ve really been enjoying writing these blogs. I love the comments I’ve received both from those who have read the books I write about and those who haven’t (and some who now intend to). I’ve been introduced to some new (well new to me) blogs that I love so far.

Tonight, I’m going to write about two of my favorite books from the 4th grade. I recall checking out each of these books from the school library several times!

The Witches by Roald Dahl
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE anything by Roald Dahl. One of the things that I always adored about Roald Dahl books is that children are always the heroes. As the writer, he respects children and values them. “The Witches” is no exception.

Like this writer, I remember very little of the actual story. I remember that the witches in the story (who are all women) had square feet. And I remember something about turning the children into mice. But the important thing is that I remember falling in love with the book. It was the first Roald Dahl book that I read, and when I told the librarian how much I loved it, she introduced me to “The B.F.G.”, “James and the Giant Peach”, “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

“James and the Giant Peach” has also hit the commonly challenged/banned books list. If you want to read more about that, check out this blog.

I know I’m not alone. Nearly every adult I talk to (at least those who are currently avid readers — that should tell you something), lovingly remember a Roald Dahl book.

So why was “The Witches” challenged? There were three main reasons I came across . . . the book is violent, it offends women and it offends witches.

Ok, one . . . read the damn book. Here’s an excerpt that depicts violence. It’s a piece of a song that the Grand High Witch sings:

Down vith (she has an accent) children! Do them in!
Boil their bones and fry their skin!
Bish them, sqvish them, bash them, mash them!
Brrreak them, shake them, slash them, smash them!

Violent? Sure. To be taken seriously? Uh, no. And any other 3rd or 4th grader reading this book will realize that. It’s sure as hell better than most of what your kids are watching on TV!

Two . . . it offends women? Seriously? Ok, so all witches are women, according to Dahl. Though he also points out that most women are not witches. Feminists who get all up in arms over that are not the kind of feminists this feminist wants to associate with!

And three . . . it offends witches. Ok, so I admit I’ve made the complaint on occasion about the ridiculous pop culture portrayals of Witches and Pagans. But come on people, there is a clear line here between reality and fiction. Dahl does not in any way compare his witches to Witchcraft as a religion. I’m more annoyed by the TV shows and movies with characters that call themselves Wiccan when the writers obviously know nothing about Wicca. Still, I don’t think any of them should be banned. (Hell, I even admit that I enjoy watching “Charmed” or “The Craft” every so often. I mean fiction people. Fiction.)

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Ooooh, this was one of my absolute favorites for years! In fact, at my daughter’s book fair tonight, I almost bought the three book set! (First of the month is coming up soon – so things are a bit tight :P)

So, even if you’ve never heard of these books, I’m sure you can figure out from the title alone, what kind of book it is! It’s a collection of scary stories (well, kinda) to, of course, tell in the dark!

Here’s a reading of one of my favorites stories:

The book also contains some more humorous stories, such as this one:

Naturally, these books have been challenged and banned in schools across the country because of the belief that they were too terrifying for children, particularly the pictures. Admittedly, the illustrations are definitely scarier than the stories themselves. And yeah, some of the stories are rather creepy.

However (in my Sharon Osbourne voice), I quite enjoyed them in elementary school, did not have nightmares and began a lifelong love of all things scary. I loved and still love the art work, even if some of it does still give me the willies.

This is not the kind of book that every child will enjoy, but a child who doesn’t like ghost stories isn’t going to check the book out of the library. Now, I wouldn’t agree with it being on a required reading list (though, I’ve also never heard of that being the case), but some kids like horror — I guess I was one of them. (Apple didn’t fall far from the tree there – my mom was obsessed with horror flicks!)

The point is, just because a few kids may not be up for reading the books, doesn’t mean you should make it inaccessible to other children. I wouldn’t read it to my 6-year-old . . . but in a few years, I’m definitely getting the three book set for her!

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for the pingback. I haven’t read “The Witches” yet “James and the Giant Peach” was my first Roald Dahl and I think I’ve found a new favorite author. I examined “Scary Stories” too. It’s amazing what people think is worth banning. Perhaps some people just don’t know how to have fun. Good post.

    Reply

    • Thank you and you’re quite welcome! I debated over which Roald Dahl book to cover and then I figured why not do “The Witches” and link to yours about “James and the Giant Peach” and kill two birds with one stone? (I kind of hate that saying, by the way :P)

      My absolute favorite Roald Dahl book is “The B.F.G.” so I definitely recommend that one!

      I’ve been meaning to get to your “Scary Stories” post (amongst others) – I usually do the bulk of my blog reading on Friday nights and Saturday mornings 🙂

      Reply

  2. WAIT. Hold. the. phone. “James and the Giant Peach?” That book is practically sacred!! I understand questioning SOME of these that you have mentioned, and I also think that school libraries may have to be “stricter” than public libraries. But “James and the Giant Peach?!?!?!” COME ON!

    Reply

    • I understand and respect any parent’s right to question or reject what his or her child is reading. So while even I understand why some parents have issues with some of the books I mentioned, I’m still adamantly opposed to the removal of any of them.

      And as for “James and the Giant Peach” . . . uh huh. Jen, there are a TON of books I won’t even get a chance to touch on this week, and most of them are completely and utterly ridiculous. I already have my list going for next year!

      Reply

  3. Here goes another long comment…Apparently banning books is a big topic for me to want to comment on!

    1)Never read “The Witches” but I have seen the movie they made off it…several times. I loved the movie as a kid and while the witches kind of freaked me out a bit when I watched it, I still wanted to watch it again and my parents never had a problem with it. I also LOVED horror movies. My brother would watch Poltergeist and Nightmare on Elm Street, etc. when I was a little girl and I would sneak and watch them too. It gave me nightmares a few times but it never stopped me from wanting to watch them. To this day, I still LOVE watching them AND reading them. I am a HUGE fan of Stephen King!

    2)I had never read or heard of Scary stories to tell in the dark until a few years ago when my now husband picked the first one up at a thrift store for me. He knew I loved scary stories and thought I might like it. I haven’t got to read the other 2 though…I can see where a younger kid might get scared of some of the stories but maybe around pre-teen age? They’re not that bad.

    Reply

    • “Apparently banning books is a big topic for me to want to comment on!”

      I think any avid reader or writer (and especially one who is both) can easily become passionate about all of this!

      Preteen age for “Scary Stories” is just about right. I was 9 or 10 when I started, but at 8 was sneaking peeks at Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th when my mom thought I was sleeping! (Sneaking to watch horror movies – just one more thing we have in common, huh? :P) I’d say the books target age group would be 10+.

      Ok, so I screwed up on “The Witches” — I read it in 5th grade. Memories are coming back to me! The movie came out when I was in 5th grade. On library day, I saw the book of the movie (not sure if I had seen the movie or just the previews) . . . But I remember that it was also the time when I discovered that books were nearly always better than the movie counterparts!

      Reply

  4. Okay, I think that by being home-schooled I missed out on some really great books! I have NEVER read anything by Roald Dahl! I didn’t even know that he wrote The Witches, and I remember watching the movie when I was a kid. I loved it, by the way. 🙂 Seems like the reasons for banning it are about as valid as the reasons for banning Harry Potter, and it’s just as obvious that the people wanting to ban it probably never read the book.

    If I had kids, I probably wouldn’t want them read to the Scary Stories book until they were maybe around 10 or so. Simply because of my own childhood trauma. lol When I was seven I went to a slumber party where they read this book and it gave me a severe fear of the dark. I couldn’t sleep by myself for probably two years. So, I wouldn’t want to put my kid through that. lol

    Reply

    • Ok, you most definitely need to read some Roald Dahl books. Like. Now. hehe

      Start with “The B.F.G.”

      “it’s just as obvious that the people wanting to ban it probably never read the book.”

      So, so true!

      Yeah, 7 is definitely too young for “Scary Stories”! It’s pretty much geared for 10 and up. Bad, bad slumber party friends! 😛

      Reply

  5. […] The Witches and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark […]

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