Are We Too Soft for Adjectives?

When I was a kid my dad owned a chain of children’s bookstores in the Pacific Northwest’s Willamette Valley. When I was out of school my days were often taken up with opening boxes of new books, pricing them and then…. reading them!

I was in heaven!

This part may come as a shock, but among the many books I read were some extremely dangerous books that could have potentially harmed me in immeasurable ways. I mean, sure, I read a steady diet of Encyclopedia Brown, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Alfred Hitchcock and Judy Blume, but I also feasted on such classics as The Diary of Anne Frank, 1984, The Color Purple and yes, even, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Wait…why “even” Charlie, Bill?

I’m glad you asked! You see, this week Roald Dahl classics, all of which I enjoyed reading as a kid and which I have now been overjoyed to share with my own daughter, have been under attack from the increasingly moronic Woke movement. Augustus Gloop is not allowed to be “fat” any more, as it is offensive or damaging or some other…well… let’s just call it what it is: BULLSHIT. The publisher, Penguin, who seems to think changes are necessary to sell more books, has ordered the word “fat” to be changed to “enormous.” For more on that, link here.

I wonder how I could possibly have grown into a fully functional adult after being exposed to such outrageous materials as a kid??? What damage have I done to my daughter by exposing her to the wigs worn by Dahl’s Witches (she has also performed in the stage adaptation), the fat belly of Gloop (and Santa!!) and the “small men” known as Oompa Loompas?

Well, it gets worse. I have also fully immersed her the world of Harry Potter, the books, the movies and the breathtaking attraction at Universal Studios. I’ve taught her the Jedi philosophy of Star Wars instead of indoctrinating her in the various local versions of Christianity (which often leave Christ out in the cold). She’s only 11, so George Orwell and Alice Walker are a ways off, but she has certainly read other banned or changed books like Dr. Seuss’ Hop on Pop, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and the collected poetic works of Shel Silverstein (Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Giving Tree, etc.).

When did we get so soft as a culture?? I mean, What The Actual Fuck, as the kids (not mine!) say these days.

As a lifelong reader, professional writer and college professor, let me tell you – anything that gets kids to read a book is absolutely marvelous. If a collection of paper with a cover wrapped around it can cause a child to put down whatever electronic device they are addicted to and read it, sign me up, no matter what it is. Kids need to be exposed to challenging concepts, new ideas, and they need heroes to help them deal with the challenges they will inevitably face in their own lives. This can happen on apps and social media, sure, but the best way to learn empathy, to understand the villain’s point of view (no one is entirely evil), to understand what makes a hero a hero…books are still the undisputed champions.

My Dad is the most intelligent person I’ve ever come across and one of his favorite authors is the oft-banned yet remarkably insightful Kurt Vonnegut. A college professor introduced me to the oft-banned yet grippingly powerful Tony Morrison, whose books I could never have penetrated on my own at that age (she tends to write stories in reverse). George Orwell was required reading in high school, and while I failed to grasp the full meaning as a kid, as an adult I find 1984 and Animal Farm are startlingly relevant to this very issue of changing and banning books. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, also a high school requirement, is a powerful story about human perseverance in the wake of disastrous circumstances, yet it’s being banned because it contains profanity.

Seriously??? Have these people listened to the radio or looked at social media recently? Profanity is pervasive. How about teaching kids when and why it’s appropriate and when it’s not?

Finally, we have even tried to block our children learning about our own past, as if ignoring it or whitewashing it will somehow make our kids better people. The first movie I saw in theaters (in re-release, obviously) was Song of the South, a movie which depicts the American South at the time of slavery. My grandmother read me the Uncle Remus tales upon which the movie is based and I have shared those with my own daughter. His best friend is black, so I guess it hasn’t made her racist. Heaven forbid we teach our kids about our despicable treatment of the Indigenous people of North America, perhaps best depicted in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the Kevin Costner film “Dances With Wolves.” One of my daughter’s dear childhood friends was half Cherokee, and it lead to some extremely valuable discussions about the importance of understanding and appreciating other cultures.

Once, when I was teaching seventh grade English, I set aside the district-mandated curriculum to do a novel study because my mostly minority composition students had no life experience to write about. The principal was on board, the district Nazis were not, but I got away with teaching Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card for two weeks while they fought it out. From that point on, most of my students filled their endless writing prompts with stories about the exploits of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, who was small and bullied but saved the world, and at the end of the year the school librarian told me the most requested book of the year was the second book in the Ender series! Imagine that!

Kids are not nearly as fragile as we seem to think. In fact, with responsible guidance, be that from parents, teachers or other adult mentors, exposing kids to challenging topics makes them stronger, not weaker. Reading about racism doesn’t make kids racist, any more than reading Harry Potter books teaches them witchcraft, as religious extremists (who haven’t read the books) sometimes claim. Reading about Anne Frank doesn’t make kids hate Jews, it gives them a deep understanding of how cruel people can be and the importance of standing up to that cruelty.

We’ve got to stop creating such a soft, tasteless, bland world for our kids to live in. If we don’t, the reality they face as adults might just crush them.

Suggested reading list of banned books here!

More on the Roald Dahl book editing controversy here!


2 thoughts on “Are We Too Soft for Adjectives?”

  1. 💯. Vonnegut is one of my favorites too, I know this is a thing that happens (an English teacher online was using Crichton’s sexism as an example where it’s been smoothed out of a lot of his books) but we are taking away the value of perspective!


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