It’s that time of year when our imaginations turn to images of ghosts and goblins, and our mouths water at thoughts of candy apples and chocolate. Regardless of the many religious and cultural references that influenced the modern Halloween tradition, it’s a beloved and fun-filled holiday for adults and children alike.
Yet the subject is also fuel for book banning and the children’s book Halloween ABC is one of those titles; it comes in at number 16 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 1990-2000.
Written by Eve Merriam and illustrated by Lane Smith, Halloween ABC is a book of poetry for childrenin which each poem matches a letter of the alphabet to a Halloween-related symbol or theme.
Most of the challenges to this book stem from the debate among some parents over difference between the frightening subject matter and the age group that an ABC book would be intended for.
The School Library Journal recommends Halloween ABC for children Kindergarten and up, stating that: “This is not a book for young children to learn the alphabet, but it is a witty, whimsical, and happily shivery book for Halloween sharing. It is also a wonderful book for monster- and horror-loving youngsters at any time of the year and a diabolic way for poetry-loving adults to introduce the work of one of our best contemporary poets.”
Many school districts across the country believed that this book was too frightening and had supernatural themes that were inappropriate for children.
Controversy brewed in the town of Marysville, Michigan, when Pat Ortiz, a librarian at the Marysville Public Library, received three requests for the removal of Halloween ABC from the library. Although Marysville is normally a peaceful suburban community, the town became harshly divided between those who felt that the book should be removed and those who feel that it should be retained.
Those who requested its removal claimed that the book is frightening, violent, anti-Christian, and generally unsuitable for children. Lee Farley, president of the local Family Friendly Libraries organization, characterized the movement to remove the book from the library\’s collection as “a necessary step toward increasing the awareness in our community of the need to protect our children from harmful materials in our public libraries. Children simply aren\’t ready to read about devils, demons, and violence. The public library should be a place where they are protected from such dangers.\”
Ortiz sums up the other side of the debate as “the desire to preserve a diverse, high quality collection for the children of Marysville. Halloween ABC is a great book. The vast majority of our young patrons find it amusingly irreverent, rather than terrifying or anti-Christian. We owe it to our children to keep this book.”
The book was last challenged in the Wellsville, New York elementary school in 2009.
Merriam’s poetic writing, along with Smith’s shocking art, is hauntingly effective as each letter of the alphabet describes a symbol of Halloween in an exceptionally creepy way.
Parents cite the graphic imagery in the poems as being unsuitable. For example:
I is for Icicle
An icy stabbing so swiftly done,
The victim scarcely felt it.
The police are baffled:
“Where’s the weapon?”
The sun shines down to melt it.”
In other words, this poem is implying that an icicle can be used as a murder weapon. It’s understandable that some might find this to be pushing the envelope a bit.
Another poem mentions devils in the poem “Demon” and that might offend some of the more religious individuals out there.
D is for Demon
Dance in the dell,
Cast their spell.
Or take the poem, “Pet.”
P is for Pet
A pet to pat, a pal of a pet,
A pet the family won’t forget,
A pet that pants and drools and yaps
And leaves a little spot in laps,
A pet that’s not the least bit vicious,
Yet finds the neighbors quite nutritious.
While the imagery and poems may be pushing the boundaries of acceptance it’s still no less frightening than many of the other things out there in the media. Parents have made similar complains about the characters on Sesame Street for decades.
I was too old to enjoy this, but many reviewers on Amazon echoed similar feelings about the book. One such reviewer states, “While I agree that older kids can enjoy this book, I had to say that I have incredibly fond memories of reading it – over and over and over again – during first grade. Neither my mother nor I had any problems with the pictures or the poems in the book.”
Overall, “Halloween ABC” is a terrific book about Halloween, and a very clever and inventive way to teach the alphabet.
For a complete list of titles covered and more information about the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project, please visit www.deepforestproductions.com
Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, Good Reads, American Library Association, Associated Press
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions