Animal Farm by George Orwell is the only novel I remember not being allowed to read when I was a kid. It’s not a complicated story — I was looking for something to read, and it was on our bookshelf at home. I said “Hey, Animal Farm,” and saw there was a piggy on the cover. I naturally thought it might be something like Charlotte’s Web. My mom said no, she thought I probably wouldn’t like that book, so I put it back. Later on I heard her mention it to my dad. I think he was concerned about my interest, I don’t remember clearly, but she (correctly) said I didn’t know anything about it and was just attracted by the animals. Strangely enough, it never really crossed my mind to read it anyway. (Movies were a different story — If it was forbidden, I was sure to watch it. Some became my favorite movies, others I turned off quickly because I determined for myself that I couldn’t/didn’t want to handle them, and that worked just fine, but those stories will keep for later.) At any rate, I never did read it, so I wanted to check it out for Banned Books Week. Spoilers if you haven’t read it!
Was it troubling? Well, it’s such an obvious analogy to the Russian Revolution that I didn’t really get invested in it for its own sake. I was upset when Boxer the horse died, that stuff gets to me. The rest of it just struck me as sad, because it was so much more mild than real life, although I still find myself thinking about the imagery at the end of the book today. In general, I was less troubled by things when I was younger than I am now. Books like The Giver, In Cold Blood, and Lord of the Flies did discomfit me for a while each, and I treasured them for that, but I just didn’t have the same appreciation for real-life tragedies back then so fictional stories didn’t weigh on me the same way. I’ll remember the imagery of Animal Farm for a while, but I don’t really remember the details of Lord of the Flies, for instance. I don’t remember how young I was when I was told I wouldn’t like Animal Farm, so I may have indeed been too young for it. It’s a difficult case, since I was less affected as a child but also knew less about history, so those books had a rather desirable effect of disturbing me but not doing it permanently. I did read those other books quite young, and would presumably have been allowed to read Animal Farm along with them if I’d wanted to, it just never happened to come up again until this week!
Of course, not everyone is like me. It’s easy to mock a Harry Potter ban because the reasons for banning are ridiculous, but books like Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies are legitimately intense. The way a child reacts to a story may be unique to that child, and I’d like to maintain some discretion in when children read traumatic books. Some things the ALA counts as “challenges” or “bans” are really just requests to move an assigned book to a higher grade level, and for the most part I’m okay with that. A parent can always have their child read the book early! Another option is to make books like this part of a choose-your-own program like many summer reading assignments. That way nothing gets banned or removed from the library, and advanced readers who are losing interest in easier books can read something meaningful to them, but kids who need to wait a few years have that option as well. There are ways to help kids find appropriate material without banning it for everyone!