Banned Books Week: Shel Silverstein and adolescent sex education

I’m super late with this post tonight – it’s nearly 2am and I’m just sitting down to write! Today (well, I guess yesterday now) was a ridiculously stressful day. I nearly bought a pack of cigarettes (for those who are not aware – I quit 9 months ago). There was not one particularly dreadful incident . . . just a whole lot of little ones.

Today was the kind of day that could only be rectified with snuggles from a soon-to-be seven-year-old who may drive me crazy (especially since she is exactly me when I was a soon-to-be seven-year-old), but who also gives the absolute best hugs ever! And so (I really just wanted to finish that sentence with “I’ll show you another good game that I know” – just to give you a peek into how my brain works) I fell asleep at 8:30 with my baby girl in my arms. And I feel million, gazillion times better!

Now that I’ve rambled on about a whole lot of nothing to do with this post, I’ll get to my choices for tonight.

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
To be fair, “A Light in the Attic” is not the only Shel Silverstein book to have been challenged and removed from certain libraries.  “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is also on the list.

Both of these books are filled with children’s poetry. Most of them are just complete silliness. “Sick” is about a little girl trying to get out of going to school by claiming every symptom imaginable, only to discover that it’s Saturday . . . at which point, she goes out to play. “Smart” is about a little boy who trades a dollar that his father gives him for coins, eventually ending up with five pennies – because five is more than one. And “How Not to Have to Dry Dishes” tells us:

If you have to dry the dishes
(Such an awful boring chore)
If you have to dry the dishes
(‘Stead of going to the store)
If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor —-
Maybe they won’t let you
Dry the dishes anymore.

And that, apparently, is the poem that is so inappropriate for children that “A Light in the Attic” needs to be challenged.

Oh, and there is this one:

There was a girl named Abigail
Who was taking a drive
Through the country
With her parents
When she spied a beautiful sad-eyed
Grey and white pony.
And next to it was a sign
That said,
“Oh,” said Abigail,
“May I have that pony?
May I please?”
And her parents said,
“No you may not.”
And Abigail said,
“But I MUST have that pony.”
And her parents said,
“Well, you can have a nice butter pecan
Ice cream cone when we get home.”
And Abigail said,
“I don’t want a butter pecan
Ice cream cone,
And her parents said,
“Be quiet and stop nagging—
You’re not getting that pony.”
And Abigail began to cry and said,
“If I don’t get that pony I’ll die.”
And her parents said, “You won’t die.
No child ever died yet from not getting a pony.”
And Abigail felt so bad
That when she got home she went to bed,
And she couldn’t eat,
And she couldn’t sleep,
And her heart was broken,
And she DID die—
All because of a pony
That her parents wouldn’t buy.

(This is a good story
To read to your folks
When they won’t buy
You something you want.)

How dare these poems “teach children to manipulate their parents!”

::Rolls eyes:: ::Shakes head::

They’re silly poems meant to make kids laugh. It’s exactly what they do. I started reading Shel Silverstein poems to my daughter when she was about two years old. She loves when I read “Sick” – well, recite really because I have the entire poem memorized (it’s my favorite). I become very animated and she laughs.

I started reading Shel Silverstein in 3rd or 4th grade, and while I may have had my moments of insubordination as a child, I never broke a dish to get out of drying them and I never read “Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony” to my parents to try to get them to buy me something . . . Though I suspect my daughter, Abigail, might try it someday. And at which point, I’ll ask her if she would like to trade all of her dollars to me for five pennies each . . . and then we can talk about that pony!

It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
I checked this book out of the library yesterday. It was published in 1994. In 1994, I was a freshman in high school and had already learned about everything that’s in this book, so I had never read the book before. I read it cover to cover this afternoon.

(I should add that the copy I checked out was updated in 2001, but there was another issue that was updated and released in 2009.)

You can find a list of the book’s challenges here. Whether it is a comprehensive list, I don’t know, but I doubt that it is. While I still disagree with this book being challenged or removed, I will admit that I’m not even slightly surprised about it.

So, what exactly is “It’s Perfectly Normal”? It is a book for preteens and teens about their bodies, how their bodies change, sex and sexual health. It is all-encompassing, covering everything from our bodies and puberty to families, decisions and staying healthy.

The controversy has covered several different areas of the book. The illustrations, the discussion of homosexuality, the discussion of birth control and abortion and of course the overall discussion of sex.

Here’s the thing – once again, nobody is forcing this book on you.

Here’s the other thing – your kids are going to learn about this stuff whether you like it or not. The book simply states facts in ways that kids will understand them. As embarrassed as you are to talk to your kids about sex, quadruple that for them. I had so many questions as a kid that I was mortified to ask. This book shows kids that “it’s perfectly normal” to have those questions . . . and to ask for answers.

I found several occasions in the book where the author encourages kids to talk to their parents or other trusted adults.

There is not a very large window from the time an adolescent’s body starts to change and the time he or she has learned just about all they can about sex. Learning about sex does not mean they are going to go out and have sex. At 17, I was an H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. Peer Counselor . . . one of the things we did was go class to class and teach other students how to put condoms on cucumbers. It didn’t make me want to run around jumping into bed with people. In fact, I was a virgin until I was 21 and the first man I had sex with later became my husband.

Whether it is through this book (or others similar to it), through you or through friends, your kids will learn about sex . . . unless you keep them completely sheltered in your own home . . . in which case, you don’t have to worry about their exposure to this book anyway, so why bother challenging it?


8 responses to this post.

  1. Commenting through my phone so I can’t type or rather touch keys fast. I love Shel Silverstein and “Sick”is my fav. of his,too. I actually posted it on my blog once in the past one day when I was under the weather.
    I want to say more but this is taking too long on the phone so I will post an addition to this.comment later.


  2. Yes, it is! 🙂 Love it and love his poems! People are so silly to challenge them!

    This is the link to the post I did with THAT poem–

    I was also going to say that I completely agree with you about the “It’s completely normal” book….just because kids are well informed doesn’t mean they will go out and have sex. In Fact, it could probably keep them for engaging in unsafe sex!
    I, myself, was exposed to things through friends and school, etc. and I waited until 21 as well…I DID have a bit of a different background, in that I was raised in the “Wait until after Marriage” belief…which at one point, I had planned to do, but it later changed into wait for the one you love and THINK you are going to marry….But I didn’t end up marrying that guy, so that didn’t work out so well. But that’s life and I did a lot of learning in my 20’s….


    • Well, I may have ended up marrying in my first . . . but also ended up divorcing him! 😛

      I believe very strongly in sex education. The more we educate our kids, the more we make birth control and condoms, the more we make them feel safe in asking questions and discussing sex . . . the fewer unwanted pregnancies we’ll see (and in turn, fewer abortions) and there will be fewer outbreaks of diseases.


  3. Posted by nivedharam on October 1, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Harry Potter is the most amazing series I have ever read! I agree with you in everything you said about it. Harry Potter is much more than a series on witchcraft, it teaches readers about friendship, love, the true meaning of bravery, and much more! It should not be banned!

    Also, please visit my blog at! I am an aspiring writer, and I have posted my work on my blog! I would appreciate feedback!


    • Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting!

      Harry Potter is definitely amazing . . . I am so looking forward to my daughter being old enough to read them!

      I will definitely check out your blog when I have some time 🙂


  4. […] A Light in the Attic and It’s Perfectly Normal […]


  5. Posted by Kathy Waller on December 23, 2014 at 1:15 am

    We teach kids all about chemistry and algebra and physics but are scared to teach them biology and how their bodies work. And we have to be careful about teaching them to read, because if they read too well, they might get into Shel Silverstein and Mark Twain and Shakespeare and other writers of inconvenient books. Adults have some strange ideas.


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