When a Hoo-hah Creates a Hoo-Hah: Schools and Banned Books

Originally published May 2013

Anne Frank had ladyparts. And she wrote about them. And that’s got at least one mama upset.

I caught this story earlier today via Facebook—a Northville, MI mom has filed a complaint with her local school district because … wait for it … Anne Frank wrote about her labia in her diary.

My first thought was, “What? I don’t remember reading that part!” Apparently, the district is using a newer, unedited version of Frank’s diary, and there is in fact a passage in which young Anne talks about her vagina. Because this is what girls do when they start to figure out what’s going on down there.

My second thought was that this additional entry somehow made Anne more painfully human. Which led directly into my third thought, which was, “For real? The word “labia” isn’t acceptable for a 7th grader, but the concept of evil is?

As a parent, I feel it’s my job to help my kids comprehend what they are reading. Sure, any anatomically correct word is probably going to elicit a giggle or two in a classroom full of pubescent children. Am I comfortable with my daughter reading about Anne Frank’s labia while sitting next to the guy she’s crushing on? OK, I’m a little squirmy. But a labia I can explain. Evil? Killing people because someone has determined there’s a master race and we need to rid the world of those not a part of it? In my mid-40s, I still haven’t been able to wrap my brain around that, and have a much harder time fleshing out that concept.

And then comes another story about schools and banned books: A Glen Ellyn school district is taking “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” off the independent reading shelves based on the complaints of two parents. According to the news account, parent Brian Banfield was concerned about sexually-charged topics such as oral sex for money and bestiality being introduced to his daughter through literature:

“I didn’t want to have this conversation with my daughter in eighth grade,” he said. “It’s hard not to get emotional and upset because we’re here talking about things we never thought we’d talk about… Our innocent child has already been tainted.”

I hate to break it to you, Brian, but chances are, by 8th grade, your daughter has heard about blow jobs. And if you weren’t planning on having that conversation with her, I hope another responsible adult is—because you don’t want her getting that info from just her friends. But that’s up to you, and it’s not really my point. I don’t care if you have a problem with the book—I feel like every parent should have the right to say, “That’s not the book for my kid at this time.” Same goes for the Anne Frank mom. Don’t want your daughter or son reading about labias? That’s cool. But what isn’t is taking steps to make sure my kids don’t have access to that material, either.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer up a suggestion: why not talk to the teacher first? My teacher friends are some of the most grounded, level-headed, common sense people I know, and LOVE parents that engage in some constructive give-and-take about education. I asked Julianne Tripple, the gifted language arts teacher at Glenview’s Springman Middle School, what advice she had for parents concerned about book content:

“I think the first tip I would give a parent would be to share what they know about the content of the intended book. If a parent has actually read the book and has some relevant concerns particular to their child, (such as cutting, suicide or anorexia) that could be unsettling, that’s completely different from the parent that is questioning just to question … Teachers appreciate parents who come to the table with a reasonable concern and more than a modicum of understanding regarding the book in question. It’s more than OK to question your teacher’s intent, just do it with respect and intelligence.”

The beauty of books? If one isn’t the right fit, chances are there are 10 more that may teach the intended lesson. Teachers aren’t just there for your kids—they are a great resource for you, too. So before you head to the school board to take a book off the shelf, maybe think about just taking it off yours, first? Book lovers everywhere thank you.

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