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Banned Book Week

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 9/25/2000

Banned Book Week Transcript

The American Library Association has designated September 23 through the 30th as Banned Book Week. That practice, as Rita Smith reminds us, has been with us for quite awhile.

Pressure to remove certain books for children from library shelves has increased exponentially in recent decades, but that isn’t entirely a late 20th century phenomenon. Take the case of the beleaguered fairy tale.

In the mid 1700’s, children read fairy tales because there was no such thing as children’s literature yet, and children simply read the same things adults read, including fairy tales. But with the advent of literature written just for children, and the realization that they were a unique group, people began to concern themselves with what children read. By 1800, one idea which almost all authors of children’s literature agreed upon, was that fairy tales were not appropriate literature for the nursery shelves.

For example, Sarah Trimmer’s main objective as a children’s author was “to contribute to the preservation of the young and innocent from the dangers which threaten them in the form of … juvenile literature.” Ironically, she herself, as a child, had enjoyed nursery rhymes, fables, and fairy tales and, at first, as an adult, such books didn’t seem harmful. It was not till someone wrote to her deriding Cinderella, that she realized the error of her ways and her own undue leniency. Her correspondent proclaimed Cinderella to be one of the most harmful books ever written for children. “It paints,” she wrote, “some of the worst passions that can enter into the human breast, and of which little children should, if possible, be totally ignorant; [passions] such as envy, jealousy, a dislike [of] mothers-in-law and half sisters, vanity, a love of dress, etc., etc.”

The more Mrs. Trimmer thought about this, the more she agreed with the letter writer. In her first volume she had praised a fairy-tale called Robin Goodfellow, as both entertaining and improving – though, of course, she cautioned, “care should be taken to make children understand that fairies are imaginary beings,” but now, in view of this letter from one who (she had to admit) “appeared to be so good a judge of what children ought and ought not to read” she had to banish Cinderella, as well as all fairy tales which, henceforth, were “only fit to fill the heads of children with confused notions of supernatural events, brought about by the agency of imaginary beings.”

The history of fairy tales, in their progress towards becoming the true natural staple of the juvenile library, is a record of strong self-preservation under deliberate persecution, There were some who valued fairy tales and who decried this state of affairs, and fairy tales, of course, survived because children loved them and because adults came to realize that fairy tales are not harmful and that they foster a child’s imagination, which is as essential to the growth of the human being as a knowledge of history and geography.

Posted in Holidays, Literature