Too Much Pepper?

More often not, my father and my youngest sister reached for the black pepper shaker at the family table right after grace was said. Breakfast found the rest of us a bit astounded, looking at their yellow mass of eggs covered with tiny black dots. My mother, concerned about what the quantity of pepper was doing to Daddy’s health, mentioned it to their doctor. He said, “Virginia, the salt you add to your food is doing infinitely more harm than Berton’s pepper.” So Mama got out of his business and let him and Ruth pepper their food to their hearts’ content.

You may have noticed that I sometimes make weird connections. Banned Book Week often makes me think of their black pepper. Stay with me, and I think you will see it.

My favorite read aloud book with eighth graders was Lois Lowry’s often banned The Giver. Its principal crime, as far as I can tell, is enticing readers to think. Great discussions ensued as we read the book. I read it to every eighth grade class with no adverse feedback from parents. They either trusted me, were unaware of the “danger” in the book, or wanted their students to learn to reason. I’m fairly sure it was the last. I was gratified this year to learn that one of those students, now a teacher, was planning to use The Giver with her students.

I have trouble with forbidding books. My very conservative mother, as far as I can remember, never told me not to read any book. She did suggest, as Eudora Welty’s mother did, that Elsie Dinsmore was not a very good choice. She thought Elsie was far too sanctimonious to be real. Eudora’s mother thought she was too impressionable to read it and might follow Elsie’s example by falling off the piano stool.

I have no problem with making recommendations to the children or students in your charge, depending on their maturity and ability to handle violence, strong language, or explicit scenes. An eighth grade student introduced me to Angela’s Ashes after she read it on her mother’s recommendation.  In a conversation that included my grown librarian daughter, I once said I couldn’t have imagined recommending that book to her in eighth grade because I didn’t think she would have been ready for it. Tongue in cheek, she responded, “Mom, I read it as an adult, and I wasn’t ready for it.” (I did think the student was ready and appreciated her mother for seeing it.)

Which brings me back to the pepper. When I serve a meal to guests, I may alert them if the food is a bit spicy so they can make a reasoned choice. I think it is equally considerate for reviewers to warn readers if a book may be disturbing to them. After that, I’m for following Mama’s example and backing off as they choose whether or not they want to drown their eggs in black pepper.