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Beyond the Lorax: Kids’ Books that Grown-ups Love to Hate

lorax quotes

The subversive Lorax, spinning his pro-environmental propaganda

In case you are the last person in the continental U.S. who hadn’t yet heard this news, there’s a new movie version of the  Dr. Seuss classic, “The Lorax” hitting theaters tomorrow. The movie’s premiere date just happens to fall on the birthday of Theodore Geisel (AKA: Suess),  who was born on March 2 of 1904.

With all of the mainstream pop culture fanfare around the release of the new Lorax movie, it’s easy to forget that the history of the book behind the film is quite a controversial one. Yep, that’s right, “The Lorax” was and still is considered subversive, PRO-TREE propaganda by quite a few folks.

 

A big thanks to Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax for sponsoring this campaign.  Click here to see more of the discussion.


First published in 1971, The Lorax has stirred up critics ever since. In fact, in 1989, a California school district attempted to actually ban the children’s tale because it was deemed to “criminalize” the logging industry. And as recently as last week, Lou Dobbs of Fox News complained that the new Lorax movie is just another example of leftie Hollywood types trying to “indoctrinate” our children.

But The Lorax is not alone; many other books for kids and teens have had their own critics and controversies. Thus, in honor of radical propagandist Dr. Seuss’s birthday, here’s my round-up of  some of the best, most highly controversial children’s books out there.

 

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  • Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Wilhoite 1 of 9
    Daddy's Roommate by Michael Wilhoite
    Published in 1991, "Daddy's Roommate" was one of the first children's books to portray gay family life in a positive light. This, of course, guaranteed that the book would generate a lot of hate, and it did. In fact, in 1995, a city councilwoman in a small Alaska town called Wasilla reportedly objected to the fact that the book was available without restriction in the public library. The irate woman's name? Sarah Palin, bien sur.
  • In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak 2 of 9
    In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
    One word explains the entire controversy surrounding this beautifully illustrated and dreamy story, and that word is....penis. It seems that many people are NOT good with Maurice Sendak's relatively realistic drawings of Mickey, the little boy who falls into the vats of batter with nothing on but his birthday suit. And being a little boy and all, Mickey does indeed have a penis which is visible in a couple of the illustrations. Some particularly creative and penicentric critics also allege that the giant bottle of milk depicted in the book is phallic in nature. Ummmm....okay....
  • Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume 3 of 9
    Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
    This book is considered by many critics to be among the finest American works of fiction of the century - period. And oh yeah, about that period thing....it's the book's frank and enlightening discussion of first menstruation and the other changes that come along with puberty and awakening female sexuality that have made the book a frequent target of critics since it was first published back in 1970.
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh 4 of 9
    Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
    Before Harriet the Spy, the best known girl-detective in kid lit was the poised and pretty Nancy Drew. Even as she solved mysteries, her titian hair remained perfectly coiffed, and she never, ever offended. Not so much with our anti-heroine, Harriet. While Harriet is beloved by my own generation of bookish, cerebral and tomboyish little girls, many adults have criticized and even attempted to ban the book over the years because Harriet is such a flawed character, with her sneaky antics and confessional diary keeping. Thankfully, the controversies around Harriet the Spy didn't keep it out of too many school libraries, and I like to think that those of us who read Harriet as 11 year old girls grew up to become the controversial bloggers of today. Harriet 2.0, you might say...
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell 5 of 9
    And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
    According to the American Library Association, this sweet book was the most challenged children's title between 2006 and 2010. (FYI: ""challenged" is a librarian euphemism for "hated." Librarians are notoriously polite that way). The book tells the TRUE story of two male penguins at an American zoo who were observed trying to hatch a rock together. So the zookeepers gave the two fellas a real, fertilized penguin egg, and they lovingly hatched it and raised baby Tango the penguin together, creating a cute little penguin family. Clearly, this is one hell of a dangerous book.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank 6 of 9
    The Diary of Anne Frank
    There have been several documented attempts by school systems and libraries to ban this powerful and important classic of youth literature. For example, back in 1983, an Alabama school district proposed yanking the book because it was - I kid you not - "a real downer." And as recently as 2010, a Virginia school system temporarily stopped allowing teachers to assign one edition of the book after a parent complained of its "homosexual themes."
  • The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams 7 of 9
    The Rabbits' Wedding by Garth Williams
    This lovely, sweet story of bunny love was published in the late 1950s, and was almost immediately denounced by bigots all over the country as an obvious attempt to "brainwash" American children. "As soon as you pick up the book and open its pages you realize these rabbits are integrated," wrote one Montgomery, Alabama newspaper.
  • The Story of Babar by Laurent de Brunhoff 8 of 9
    The Story of Babar by Laurent de Brunhoff
    It turns out that some very, very smart people - almost certainly far smarter than you or I are - don't like the Babar books ONE BIT because they are all about imperialist domination and oppression of native peoples.
  • Maggie Goes on a Diet by Paul Kramer 9 of 9
    Maggie Goes on a Diet by Paul Kramer
    This self-published book for kids 6-12 came out only last year and generated press that a major publisher could only dream of. Why? Because the storyline contains what one LA Times writer described as possibly one of the "most incendiary four letter words" in the English language today: diet. If you check out the book's reviews on Amazon, you will see a battle raging between passionate critics of the book's storyline in which a "chubby" middle schooler becomes "popular" by dieting sensibly and playing soccer, and those who believe that we need to be more honest with kids about what it takes to lose weight and get healthy. This one definitely has critics in both directions.

 

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How about you? Are there any controversial books for children or teens that you love? Were there any books that you yourself wanted to read as a child or teen that your parents, pastor or school librarian disallowed? Are there any books that you won’t let your own children read, and if so, why?

Let’s talk controversial kids’ books in the comments below.

And in  addition to sharing your comments, please consider clicking the Facebook “Like” button at the top of this blog post to share with others. Or if Facebook’s not your thing, you could show my post a little love by  giving a quick tap on either the Twitter or “Pin It” Pinterest buttons that  are each also located right up top of the post. Much obliged! – kag

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