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5 Subversive Children’s Books That Everyone Should Read

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3. In the Night Kitchen

With its illustrations of an unclothed Max, Maurice Sendak’s 1970 story of a little boy’s night-time adventures is routinely banned or at least censored with librarians and a fat black marker. Alarming also is the suggestion of cannibalism when Max is (shades of Hansel and Gretel?) baked into a cake, only to fly off in a bread airplane.  But perhaps most alarming of all is that Max is not, in the way of good little boys and girls, doing as he ought and going to sleep in his bed but dreaming of adventures — perish the thought, right?

4. The Golden Compass

Don’t tell! I prefer this 1995 novel, and two more in the trilogy “His Dark Materials,” to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Lyra Belacqua, accompanied by her daemon — her inner self embodied animal form, Pantalaimon — and (after the second book, “The Subtle Knife”) Wil Parry travel between worlds in what (by the third book, “The Amber Spyglass”) is an epic journey against the oppressive Authority.

The author Philip Pullman (who has not been shy to describe his atheism) draws in questions of good and evil, death and love; number witches and armored polar bears among his characters; and includes a world where evolution has created animals of an entirely different sort. “His Dark Materials” have come under fire for Lyra’s awareness of her sexuality in the third book (culminating in a scene with Wil in which she, like Eve, yields to “sin and temptation”) and the series’ negative portrayal of organized religion and, in particular, Christianity.

5. Greek mythology

I’m not thinking of any one book about Greek mythology in particular but of specific ancient Greek texts with the myths. In their original form, these classics are full of violence (often of one family member to another — Oedipus kills his father) and sex (again, of one family member with another — Oedipus again, and numerous others including Zeus and Hera who are siblings and husband and wife).

All of this is presented (in the originals, that is), without moralizing or often without a message that “doing evil means evil will be done to you.” Far from the jolly, Santa Claus-like figure in Disney’s “Hercules” cartoon, Zeus (in the 8th-century poet Hesiod’s Theogony) castrates his father Chronos, who had swallowed Zeus’ mother, Metis, and all of his siblings (including Hera).  Greek myths are also steeped in powerful female figures including the goddess of wisdom, Athena, and Hercules (and, for that matter, Zeus) fall in love with as many young men as women.

What’s a book you read when younger that showed you a different world?

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234 comments

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10:18AM PDT on May 1, 2013

thanks

7:37AM PDT on Mar 31, 2013

If no one banned those books., how would we have known to read them first? Lol. Wish I had some kids to rediscover these gems with

7:44PM PDT on Mar 18, 2013

thanks

4:32AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

Children's books do not get the credit they deserve. I think that people forget that since they are written by experienced and intelligent adults, they often contain so much more than just a nice story marketed for kids.

6:53AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

I once heard a mother who oversaw the education of her children say that Roald Dahl was an anarchist. I just had to shake my head.

5:26AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

Thanks for the article.

4:39AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

10:20PM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Thanks

11:47AM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Thank you.

11:45AM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Thank you.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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