To Ban or Not to Ban


Banned Books Week is here again. Our de Grummond Book Group celebrates by bringing a favorite banned book to discuss, and I chose A Light in the Attic. If you would like a banned book of your own to read, check out the American Library Association lists at

To put my cards on the table, the only books that I recall my mother ever discouraging me from reading were those in the Elsie Dinsmore series. Naturally, I tried one and discovered Mama was right in thinking Elsie was far too goody-goody to be either realistic or interesting. I’ve followed Mama’s philosophy of discussing but not banning with my children and my students. Up front, you can probably see which side I come down on with the banned book issue. 

In case you are not familiar with the often-banned book A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein, it is filled with sophisticated, whimsical silliness in the form of poems and drawings. Kids, who still have their senses of humor and imaginations intact, love them. Adults, who have lost both, complain. 

Nervous adults find disobedience in the last couple of lines of one poem “If you have to dry the dishes / And you drop one on the floor – / Maybe they won’t let you / Dry the dishes any more.” Kids just get the giggles.

Kids find an amusing justice after Pamela Purse has insisted “Ladies First” all day and from force of habit yells it again from the back of the line as they face the Fry-‘Em-Up Dan cannibal king. Worried adults see a proposal for cannibalism. 

Anxious adults worry about a suicide lesson when Little Abigail couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and died of a broken heart because her parents wouldn’t let her have a pony. Kids see the ridiculousness in the story. 

While I read these and other poems in the book for their fun to my second-graders, the book also has a power that may not be obvious to those looking for a reason to ban a book. A parent asked me what to do about her bright son who loved math but was unimpressed with reading. I told her he had been “borrowing” Shel Silverstein books from my desk regularly when he finished his work. She was thrilled a couple months later when his Christmas wish list started with A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. 

Ban A Light in the Attic? Keep it in the dark? I think not. Instead, let’s call out a posse and see if we can locate the imaginations and senses of humor for the adults who seem to have misplaced them.