Thursday, 10 October 2013

Forbidden Fruit by Damian Harvey

There's something very alluring about doing anything that we shouldn't be doing - be it eating forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, sneaking a chocolate when we should be dieting, or (as a child) taking a sneaky peak at a wrapped present under the Christmas Tree.

Things that are banned instantly become more interesting than they ever were before. I remember listening to the comedian Jasper Carrott, talking about his surprise top 5 chart hit "Funky Moped", banned by the BBC because of the single's B-side - a naughty parody of The Magic Roundabout. "It's the best thing that could have happened to it," he said, as people rushed out to buy it to see why it had been banned.  

Forbidden books are equally alluring... September 22nd to 28th was Banned Book week (the book community's celebration of the Freedom to Read) and many libraries (and bookshops) around the world took this opportunity to display Banned Books as a way of generating interest in lending and reading by encouraging library visitors and customers to sink their teeth into some of the tasty, forbidden morsels on display.

I was delighted that one of our local libraries - Buckley Library in Flintshire - took this opportunity to promote this to their visitors... and a great success it was too - one elderly lady declaring "Oh it makes you want to read them doesn't it." It's only a shame that more libraries didn't follow suit as it certainly ignited interest in those visitors that saw it -  surely what is needed everywhere. Visitors to the library were instantly drawn to the display of books - each seductively labelled with a "Banned" sticker, and each holding a bookmark giving further information on the library service etc.

Some of the titles on display that have been banned in different parts of the world for various reasons came as no surprise. Others, however, did. As an author of children's books I was more interested in the children titles than the adult.

Older titles like Mark Twain's 'The Adventure's of Tom Sawyer' - banned because of its "radically charged language" and its questioning of racial inequality - were a surprise to me (though perhaps they shouldn't have been), as were more modern titles like Louise Rennison's 'Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging', banned in many classrooms in America because of its frank discussion of boys, and references to lesbianism, pornography and erections etc. Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants titles topped the American frequently challenged list in 2012.

Other books have been banned in other countries for stranger reasons - Lewis Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' was banned in the province of Hunan, China, in 1931, though not for the reasons you might have expect, but because it showed animals acting on a level with humans.

Of all the banned children's books our favourite is 'And Tango Makes Three', a picture book written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole. This delightful picture book tells the (true) story of two male penguins trying to hatch a stone in New York's Central Park Zoo... The zoo keepers realised that perhaps it was time for the two male penguins to have a baby of their own to look after. According to the American Library Association, "authorities in Charlotte, North Carolina, Shiloh, Illinois, Loudoun, Virginia and Chico, California all banned the book. The American Library Association reports that And Tango Makes Three was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007 and 2008 and the single most banned book of 2009 in the US."

For more information about banned books you might like to visit this UK site which has a little list of banned books or the American Library Association's extensive site.  In the meantime I'll be working on getting my next book banned in order to generate a bit more interest... it seems to be just the ticket.

Damian Harvey -


Sue Purkiss said...

How interesting! Thanks, Damian.

Ann Turnbull said...

Fascinating post, Damian. But I want to know, did the two male penguins care for the baby penguin? Did this story have a happy ending?

Emma Barnes said...

Schools should get onto this - I'm sure kids would love the idea of reading "banned books!"

Richard said...

Fascinating post, Damian.

According to the font of all knowledge, Ann, they're all doing fine:

Andrew Preston said...

The unstated subtext of the 'banned book' displays seems to me to be...

" Of course it doesn't happen now, and/or it doesn't happen here...".

At root, that 1931 Chinese banning of 'Alice in Wonderland' .., is really rather little different to the 1971 Rupert Bear/'Oz' trial in England.

Damian Harvey said...

Ann, as Richard has kindly pointed out (beating me to it) the males penguins did successfully raise the young chick.. so yes - a happy ending.

Andrew, my post was really about the fact that libraries have used banned book week and the displays as a way to generate interest in reading. There's certainly no subtext intended in the displays. And of course book banning does still happen. Hence the inclusion of such titles as Captain Underpants as well as other more recent titles for adults and children.