I put “read” in quotation marks, because Olivia is three years old. And while she loves books, and can recognize letters, and maybe an occasional word, she cannot technically read. She’ll get there eventually, but in the mean time she loves to be read to, or to sit by herself immersed in the illustrations of her favorite picture books.
But Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do you See? with its focus on colors, animals, and most importantly it’s simple and repetitive prose, was the first book that Oliva was able to memorize and recite front to back after repeated readings. And as a result, it was the first book she was able to “read” all by herself, and the first to give her that special feeling of satisfaction one gets after finishing a good book.
Even though we don’t read it as much as we used to since Olivia has moved onto to more complex stories, it was nice to revisit our old friend Brown Bear again last night. Especially for me, since it granted a rare reprieve from having to do all the heavy lifting of the actual reading myself. And Olivia even found something new to relate to this time around with the appearance of the teacher near the end of the book. “I have a teacher now too!” she told me excitedly referring to the fact that she herself recently started going to school for the first time.
As a cherished family favorite, you can imagine my surprise when I came across this title while reviewing a list of banned children’s books. It simply couldn’t be. I mean, it’s literally just about differently colored animals looking at each other. How could that possibly offend anyone? Did I miss the part of the book where Brown Bear goes into feeding frenzy and violently devours the other animals before setting his sights on the children and their teacher? Was their some hidden sexual innuendo between Purple Cat and Blue Horse that I had somehow missed over the course of countless readings?
Although the real reason is somehow even more disturbing…
It turns out that the reason the Texas Board Education Board saw fit to ban Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was the fear that it would spread Marxist ideas.
Say what now?
According to a 2010 Huffington Post article, Brown Bear was banned from public schools in Texas because the Education Board confused its author, Bill Martin Jr. with Bill Martin, a college professor and author of the book Ethical Marxism: Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation. But keep in mind, this was not just a blanket banning of all “Bill Martin” books. Brown Bear was evaluated individually, and it was determined that it should be banned because the author’s adult work contained "very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system."
This confusion was eventually sorted out and Brown Bear returned to school library shelves all across Texas where it remains to this day, but this story does raise an important question about book banning and intellectual freedom.
Even if beloved children’s author Bill Martin Jr. was a card carrying member of the communist party, how does that make the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? inappropriate for children?
I can see the logic of not shelving Ethical Marxism: Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation in grade school libraries based on reading level alone. I’m 38 and I struggled to comprehend a general synopsis of the book without getting lost in philosophical jargon. But how anyone could read Brown Bear and infer any kind of hidden agenda other than teaching kids to recognize animals and colors is beyond me. It is literally one of the most simplistic books ever written.
Despite this fact, a group of educated adults whose job it is to facilitate education, had a meeting, discussed the content of this book, and decided that it should be banned based purely on a reaction to communist paranoia. And let me remind you that this happened in 2010, not during the Red Scare of the 1940's and '50's. Or even the Cold War of the 1980's...
If knowledge is power, then we must stay vigilant to ensure that we have access to the knowledge and ideas contained within the pages of books.
Even if that knowledge is just learning to recognize colors and animals….
Banned Books Week
Celebrating the freedom to read: September 27th to October 3rd, 2015
For more information: http://www.bannedbooksweek.org