Before Somebody Lifted the Lorax Away

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At the far end of town, where the Grickle-grass grows
and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
and no birds ever sing excepting old crows… is the Street of the Lifted Lorax

Everyone has books they remember as “making a difference”.

Well, ok maybe not everyone, but I’d wish that fate on everyone, so I’ll leave it.

The Lorax was one of those books for me.  I can remember reading it for the first time, and thinking “This isn’t like I expected it to be.  It doesn’t have a happy ending.  Dr. Seuss books are supposed to have happy endings.”  Maybe that’s why it mattered, as a 9 year old (or 11 year old, or whatever. I don’t know exactly when I first read it).  Maybe it mattered because I’ve loved trees since I was very small, thanks either to some innate tree-hugger gene or because my father also loves trees and caring for them, or both.  But I can remember coming away from this book with a better perspective on the world.

A powerful thing, that.

This week is Banned Books Week.  Many of the books on the list are ones that I am a more well-rounded human for having read.  To Kill a Mockingbird. On the Road. The Sound and the Fury. Brave New World. The Lord of the Rings. The Lorax.

Many of those books I read at home – some of them probably younger than my Conservative WASP School District would’ve liked.  But my parents knew their child – and knew what I could and couldn’t handle.  When I read The Lord of the Rings with my dad, he used it to talk to me about evil, and about how the world is sometimes not a nice place.  In short, he used it as a way to both connect to his kid, and to help her grow up. I had similar conversations with my mom, when reading Of Mice and Men as a freshman in High School.

And I know, I was lucky.   I have amazing parents, and they did a good job.  But teachers can do this too (I got lucky in that front as well, having had some tremendous literature teachers throughout my schooling).

A lot of times, book banning is done to “PROTECT THE CHILDREN”.

Bull-honkey.

Should a 5 year old be reading The Sound and the Fury?  Probably not.  Would a 5 year old understand it?  Uh… probably not.

Books are some of the best teaching tools for helping people expand their minds, for presenting something outside of what they normally experience.  Reading To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer present racism /clearly/ as a bad thing.  I’m quite sure that nobody wants their children to be confronted with racism in their every day existence – but if they can learn about it from Scout and Tom and Huck, and see those negative effects in what is, essentially, a safe environment, isn’t that a good thing?

And sure, books that present difficult subjects should be presented to kids who are ready to start tackling those subjects – but banning them only serves to make those conversations more difficult.  Sheltering children doesn’t make the bad things in the world less bad – and without these kinds of discussions, how can we expect kids to magically come to the “good” conclusions?  Books present the “bad things” in a way that is relateable, and a way that is controllable.

Now don’t get me wrong – I think parents need to have the final say in what their kids are or aren’t reading.  Who knows a kid better than his or her parents?  Sometimes kids aren’t ready for certain conversations – and that’s 100% ok.

But /banning/ the book says that it presents nothing good, that it can serve no purpose. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t going to turn kids into racists (and 90% chance says they’ve heard a racial slur before in their life, whether on TV or on the playground) – but banning books is a good way to take away those conversations, and make them impossible for kids who ARE ready.   It’s fine to stop your own kids from reading something; that’s called responsible parenting. But to tell everyone else’s kids what they can and can’t read takes that decision away from other responsible parents.

Ignorance doesn’t solve anything.

Responsibility, however, does.

*Writing this post was hard, because this is a very emotionally charged subject for me.  I struggle to refrain from nerdraging about people banning The Lorax and other books I have loved and learned from.  I need to thank Falconesse for helping me turn this into a productive post.  She is wise, you know!

Thanks Mom and Dad, for all the Music

I’ve always loved music. Just about any music really, though I’ve spent the most time studying American music and Medieval/Early music.

Needless to say, my iTunes playlists are pretty diverse. And every now and then I have music that shows up that takes me very vividly back to another memory. It always amazes me how strongly I’ve tied moments in my life to the music that was playing (or that I was playing). Obviously many of these are pieces of music that resonate with me strongly… but I’ve come to think that sometimes the reason that they resonate so strongly is because of the memories associated with them.

I credit my love of music to my parents, both of whom love music and love to sing, though neither is formally trained. I think it’s to their credit that two people that loved music successfully raised two children that have made music a lifestyle. My brother and I both carried our musical careers into college, and though he is an engineer and I would be a historian, we both have strong connections to music – to the point that jazz is probably one of our “common languages”.

Listening back to my childhood, I rarely remember a time that there wasn’t some kind of music playing, whether it was the radio, the record player, a cassette deck, or the CD player – so I guess it’s not that surprising that most of my family memories involve some kind of music.

Today? My random iTunes Playlist turned up “Jessica”, by The Allman Brothers Band – a song I can’t listen to without smiling – a song that, just by sitting and listening with my eyes closed, makes me 4 years old again, helping my dad build a rabbit hutch in the basement.

I cant listen to The Beatles “Blackbird” or “Rocky Racoon” without tearing up a little, because those were my lullabies. I can’t hear or play Sousa marches without helping my mom make lemonade and some rediculously sweet berry dessert on the 4th of July. I can’t decorate for the holidays without hearing the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, and my dad’s (horrible) punny re-dos of some of the songs.

I can’t hear Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” or “Scarborough Fair” without having my mom help me with a high school project that referenced the songs, and listening to her stories about learning the guitar so she could play them.

I can’t hear “Hell” by The Squirrel Nut Zippers without belting the lyrics out in the car with my dad and brother, attempting to salsa dance when none of us knew how, and all of us were “too old” for such ridiculous things.

I remember my first piano lessons, being told to practice my clarinet outside because it was too loud in the house, listening to my parents sing while they did housework – one with lyrics, and one singing the background music, getting driven to school at 5am for orchestra rehearsals, helping my brother learn to play the clarinet after his years with saxophone, seeing my parents in the crowd as I stood on stage with a choir for the first time.

Right now my parents are away on their 30th anniversary trip (I’m horribly jealous, and hope that someday I get to go on as awesome a 30th anniversary trip as they’re having), and I’ve been thinking about them a lot. They’re a huge part of my life – as I suppose parents usually are – and I love and miss them a great deal. I live 5 hours drive away right now, and traveling is hard – even for a teacher who has the summer off.

But I hope someday, if I ever have kids, I can have the kind of relationship with my kids that I have now with my parents – and that maybe, just maybe, those kids might sit and remember mom standing in the kitchen, washing dishes and belting out some stupid song at the top of her lungs.