Thursday, June 11, 2015

Censorship: A Classic Post Revisited

(photo from Book Riot)

Some of you know that I had a very brief career as a mommy blogger at Now That You Mention It. Since I’m seeing Judy Blume this evening – LIVE! -- I thought that today would be a great day to revisit a classic post from 2009 about introducing Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to my own children. This post is also a little bit about how nuts I am and how much difficulty I have keeping my crazy contained. 


If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know how much I enjoy a good holiday celebration. You know --- Harvestoween and Earth Day and Veterans’ Day. So it should come as no surprise that, in our family, we are busy getting ready for Banned Books Week (September 26-October 3).

I am completely serious – except there’s a twist. I am trying to ban a book. Or mutilate part of it. I have thought very hard about whether or not it would be possible to break into Green’s classroom and STEAL this book off the shelf. Or maybe get the School Board to end that crazy policy of having kids read during class. NO READING! NO READING!

You can wipe that shocked look off your face now. Let me explain. It all started this summer, when the boys and I snuggled up on the couch to read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing together. The author, Judy Blume, was my favorite as a child. She single-handedly educated me about topics as diverse as menstruation, divorce, and scoliosis. You could always count on Judy to tell you the truth.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is not one that I remember very well, probably because I didn’t
spend a lot of time with the books that featured boy characters. But, of course, in a strange twist of fate, all the people who now live in my house are boys. So I thought, “How about if we read this together and fill a few of these endless late-summer hours?”

And the kids loved it. They loved Pee-tah and his little brother, Fudge. I had to do a little explaining (70s gender roles, mugging (!), what a “doorman” is), but somehow, my kids really resonated with the main theme that a brother can be annoying and might eat your turtle.

Apparently, Judy Blume has turned this set of characters into a series, following the brothers as they age. I wanted to learn more about the next in the series, Superfudge. So I got online and was taken aback at all the WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! postings in the reader reviews.

So it kinda turns out that Judy Blume tells the truth about Santa Claus in this book.

Dammit with the truth-telling! I want my kids to be shielded from the truth! I want a cover-up! Come on, Judy! What were you thinking?!!!!

Anyway, I decided that we wouldn’t be reading that book. Instead, I bought the next one, thinking maybe the boys wouldn’t notice that we skipped over a whole segment of the characters’ lives.

I know that this will probably be the last year for Santa in our house anyway, just because the boys are getting to that age where logic starts to work (How likely is it that the same mother who somewhat obsessively checks to make sure the doors are locked would let a strange man come into the house in the middle of the night?). We already dodged a bullet last year when the kid who sat next to Blue revealed Santa’s identity. But this was the great part – Blue didn’t believe him! It turns out that this kid had cried wolf one too many times. There was the time that he told the teacher that his father died (not true), and the time that he told the class that he was getting his legs amputated (not true), and the time that he said that his mother liked to cook ponies for dinner (not true). So when he said to Blue, “There’s no such thing as Santa,” Blue just shrugged and said “Everyone knows you’re a big liar.”

Lucky for us, that kid is now attending another school. Second grade has started, and the students are back to their homework and their math assessments and their germ sharing. Yesterday, Green ran out of his classroom at the end of the day with a big smile on his face. “Mommy!” he exclaimed. “Guess what I’m reading at silent reading time?” “What?” I asked, delighted that he is so interested in literature.

He said, “I’m reading Superfudge!!!!!”

I felt my pulse begin to race. NO!!!! NOT SUPERFUDGE!!!!

And then I did what I should not have done. I marched into his classroom and accosted his teacher. I will add that it was really hot yesterday, and I was not at my best. The second grade is overrun with pungent little boys, so there was an odor to the school that made me queasy – like some of the kids had accidentally peed on the tops of their dirty sneakers. And I was sweaty, and red-faced, and trembly. The teacher took a step back when I shrieked, “You can’t let Green read Superfudge!!!! He’ll find out about Santa!!!!!”

In that moment, my name was scratched off the list of potential candidates for Room Mother.

She paused and said, “Umm… do you want me to hide it?”

And I honestly went home and wrestled with whether or not I should take her up on that offer.

Then I had this very profound flashback. I was 10 years old (and a very young 10. A Barbie-doll-loving kind of 10.
A Snoopy-and-the-Gang kind of 10. Not the kind of 10 that dresses up like a hooker on Halloween). My mom took me to the B. Dalton Booksellers in the mall to find something to read, and I found a Judy Blume book that I had never read. It was Forever, which concerns a teenager’s first sexual experience with a guy who names his penis “Ralph.” When we got home, my mom looked more closely at the book and decided that perhaps it wasn’t appropriate for me quite yet. So she took it. And hid it.

In response, I spent the next year looking for it, hunting and searching, searching and hunting, until I found a copy in my friend Lisa’s house and read it in her basement, all in one sitting. This made me wonder what would happen if the teacher really did hide Superfudge. Would Green spend the entire school year wandering around his classroom looking for that book? Up-ending book bins? Tearing through the math manipulatives? Opening all the science kits?

This morning I apologized to Green’s teacher. I said that perhaps I had overreacted. I told her that Green can read whatever he wants to read. Ideas should be free, even if they destroy our holiday traditions. No problem.

She continued to gaze at me warily. I can’t imagine why.

I guess I will watch and wait to see what happens when Green gets to that revelatory chapter in the book. I wonder if he will tell Blue at recess. I wonder if he will tell other kids. Of course, if any of you can think of a reasonable way for me to get rid of the book before that point, please let me know.

Just kidding. Sort of.

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