Adult Fiction

Banned Books Week: Animal Farm

Animal Farm fan cover
Cover redesign by AstroCrush on Deviantart

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!

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17 thoughts on “Banned Books Week: Animal Farm

  1. Determining what is appropriate for a child’s age can be hard. If it’s approached in the vein of “you can read it when you’re a bit older” then I think I’d be okay with that. But if it’s approached in the vein of “No, you’re banned from reading this” then that’s problematic and not good approach.

    Some kids can handle heavier stuff than others, but it’s hard to know what a kid can handle — until it’s a bit too late, then you need to make sure the kid gets the care they need to recover if it was too much to handle.

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    1. Yes, exactly. Ideally a parent or teacher will be in tune with how kids are doing and able to tailor the approach to them, and I think parents who ask for a book to be moved to a higher grade level are making a good-faith effort to be helpful. Banning something entirely comes from a very different mindset, in my opinion.

      I agree, and I do think reading heavier books as a class can be a good thing, because you then have that place to discuss the book and get some supplemental materials to help you deal with it. So, surely there’s a balance.

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  2. Hm… I had to read Animal Farm for school, and it was one of the ones that I didn’t like. I just didn’t care for it — but it was also not the kind of book I would have picked up on my own. I’d be curious how old you were when you weren’t allowed to read it… and what your parents reasoning was!

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    1. Perhaps I shall ask my mother. 🙂 I think the only reason I remember the event was overhearing my parents talking about it afterward. I do think I was younger than I was for the other books I mentioned, and she was probably right that I wouldn’t have liked it, especially since I was looking for something cute and Charlotte’s Web-y. (Not that I actually liked that book, didn’t it have a sad ending too? I don’t remember it very well.)

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        1. It really wasn’t a book that held my interest for some reason. I loved animals. I still love them but I’m very careful about them now, for reasons mentioned above. 🙂 But I think the spider dies? Somebody dies.

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          1. Think the spider dies… pretty sure you’re right on that one.
            I think it was just in this gap-time… since I didn’t really find non-picture books that interested me before I hit 3rd grade (but man, did I devour and re-read those picture books…) there are a lot of books that I just bypassed. Once I found books I liked I jumped right from the BabySitters Club to things like Little Women, The Secret Garden and (not that much later) Holocaust stories (yeah, yeah… strange child, I know…)

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          2. 😀 I vaguely remember a few choice picture books, but I actually like them a lot more now than I did then. I really wish I had a more solid chronology, but I remember reading Star Trek novels before I was ten, along with The Hobbit and Battlefield Earth, of all things. I loved that book. I actually had a brief interest in Holocaust stories too, although I don’t think it was ever a “thing” for me… Do you remember how that came about?

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          3. I don’t… but I’ve been interested in it for an obscenely long time. And have had some experiences around things that evoked certain emotions to a point of being… strange. I’m not sure if I believe in reincarnation or not, but it’s to the point where I wonder if I wasn’t connected, in some way, in a past life.
            Luckily, Mom always let me explore that interest, let me read the books (and read them as well, I discovered much later, so she could discuss with me if I wanted/needed). I know that when Schindler’s List came out in 1993, I was about 12, and Mom let me go see it with the Girl Scout Troop I was in (they were all older than me) because I had already read through most of the Holocaust books that the library had in the YA section and was fairly well versed. I was upset by it, but not hugely so, and certainly not traumatized.

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          4. That’s very interesting. I used to read a lot about psychic phenomena and that sort of thing, I’m actually trying to get back into it. Email me if you want to carry the discussion further, I’m sure WordPress’s comment nesting is getting anxious at this point!

            I saw Schindler’s List in a WWII class last summer. Cried in class along with some other students. I wouldn’t say I was traumatized, it was a valuable experience and I’m grateful, but I do still think about the scene at the end where he says his Nazi pin could’ve bought two more people. That scene was the one that got me. I have several Jewish friends and access some of that stuff through their feelings about it, but I’m generally over-empathetic as an adult anyway.

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      1. Yup. Spider dies, but it’s done well, in the sense that everyone knew she’d eventually die, and she dies giving Charlotte something beautiful to remember. It showed how death isn’t always a bad and terrifying thing, and that goodness can come from it.

        I don’t want to give away the beautiful thing she gives to Charlotte through her death unless you don’t mind spoilers here in the comments.

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