When I started reading this month’s Book Club selection, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Mainly because we thought it would be interesting to pick a book from the American Library Association’s list of top 100 challenged books. The group zeroed in on number 56: “James and the Giant Peach,” by Roald Dahl. Being a short read, it held lots of appeal (and October happened to be Roald Dahl month at our local library). We also scratched our heads, trying to figure out how on earth this book that we thought was a beloved children’s novel came to be challenged.
As I read through the book, I pored over each word and moment for a double meaning: were the crocodile tongues actually a reference to LSD? Was the whole adventure with the giant peach a veiled reference to getting high? A figment of the drug-fueled imagination? The New York landing was a wanton destruction of property that showed no regard for the common man? What was it that earned this slim pocket of a novel its admission to the challenged books list?
According to those in the know on the Wiki, it was the story’s macabre and potentially frightening content that did it.
Really? Really? Because no children’s book has ever before addressed the issues of being orphaned, abuse, or giant insects before? I realize we all have brains, but am starting to think there’s a “use it or lose it” clause that is buried in the owner’s manual, which leads to very awkward situations like these. You see, I kind of think that time has proven that trying to limit highly impressionable minds’ exposure to ideas that may lead to very bad things (define “bad things” however you will) has not made them any less impressionable.
Yes, there are bad books out there. There are even more badly-written books out there, for that matter. Some create a strong emotional connection, others may recall personal events you’d rather forget. Some exist to make sure no one ever forgets. Does that make them worth limiting?
While this book was an enjoyable read for me (I realized that I had never read it in my school years; I think I was out sick the week we were going to read it), it also made me appreciate the fact that I live in a place where – for the most part – I am allowed to exercise my own common sense, and read the books I’m interested in. That common sense also gives me the freedom to close the cover forever on a book that disturbs me, I dislike, or disagree with. I can respect that others around me may not agree with my regard for any particular book, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to try and stop them from reading it. (That’s that pesky common sense getting in the way again.)
If accidentally growing a huge peach that houses otherwise-scary insects that turn out to be very gentle friends, and ultimately creating a forever home in the pit of that peach isn’t a truly frightening idea to you, then crack this one open. Myself, I kept thinking to the years ahead, when my little boy will be big enough to read this book, and will probably spend months trying to figure out if he could ever grow a peach big enough to turn into his own house someday.