The Accidental Book Burning Mom

Let me start out by saying I LOVE BOOKS.  I was the kind of kid who woke up on Saturday morning and didn’t emerge from my bedroom until the late afternoon because I was engrossed in Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.  My family made pilgrimages from Brooklyn to Manhattan to go to the huge Barnes and Noble downtown where we would pile books into a basket like we were at the grocery store.  So I never dreamed that I would turn into a mom who would ask a teacher to remove a book from a classroom and a school library.  Who would advocate taking black marker and defacing this book and then ripping it to shreds and stomping on it?  But, here I am getting ready to do just that.

What horrible book could elicit this kind of rage and outcry?  Is it some kind of vile racist, sexist trash?  Is it pornographic or full of graphic violence?  No.  It’s a children’s illustrated book by one of the most celebrated and best selling modern children’s authors.  In our house it’s called the “book that shall not be named.”  In the real world it’s A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon.  And millions of kids think its hysterical, whimsical, even a favorite.  However, my daughter thinks this book has the ability to strike her dead if she opens it.  She has a deep and irrational fear – a phobia – of this book that has literally brought on panic attacks.

It started two years ago when the librarian read it to her preschool class.  She seemed fine at the time, but when she came home she didn’t sleep that night.  She refused to go to school the next day.  When we brought her to her class she had a massive crying fit and could not calm herself down.  She wouldn’t go near the library, she was terrified that the book might be in the return box in her classroom or that another child might have it in their backpack.  So, the director of the school removed the book.  Took it out of the school.  It was the only way my daughter would go back.  That was two years ago.

Last year in kindergarten in a new school the only thing my daughter was concerned about was that A Bad Case of Stripes would be in the school.  Forget worrying about making new friends or navigating a huge building, all she cared about was that book.  And sure enough there it was.  So, the teachers removed it.  (Or so they said…) And all went fine for most of the year, until one day when her teacher reached above a cabinet to get something down and that book, that sinister book fell from its hiding place and landed on the floor.  Did anyone notice?  No, only my daughter, across the room building with blocks spied those bright rainbow colors dropping down to the floor and instantly knew in her bones that evil was indeed in the room.  She never said a word to us at home, we knew none of this, but the next day sure enough she refused to go to school.

It got worse as the year progressed.  She had lost faith in her teachers and never trusted them again.  And that book – that ridiculous seemingly harmless book – loomed ever larger in her mind until one day at school when all the parents were invited into the room to look at their child’s work my daughter totally lost it.  She cried and stood guard at the book bins refusing to let anyone take out a book.  She couldn’t get a grip on herself, couldn’t explain what was going on and couldn’t breathe.  She had a panic attack.

As I write this I still can’t believe this happened over a book.  I also can’t believe that up until that moment I myself had never looked at the book.  So, I went to Barnes and Noble and read the book.  And you know what, that book is a freakin’ nightmare.  And you know what else?  The girl on the cover, the main character that gets contorted and distorted into horrifying forms and monstrous faces well she looks just like my daughter.  Same wavy brown hair and big brown eyes.  It’s creepy how similar they are.  And then I got it.  This book hit my daughter an such a visceral and unconscious level and she happened to be exposed to it right when real fears started developing in her mind that now it has taken on a life of its own in her imagination.

This year my daughter’s first grade teacher is determined to get her over this fear.  Her plan is simple:  Deface this book, rip it up flush it down the toilet.  Take control and show the book who is boss.  Unfortunately, this simple plan is up against my daughter’s very complicated and irrational fear.  Our first attempt failed.  Today we will try again.  This time my daughter has picked two friends to help her and I’m hoping that peer pressure will give her the push she needs to go through with it.  I guess that’s two things I never thought I’d be advocating as a mom – the destruction of a book and my daughter giving in to peer pressure.  In the meantime I’d like to apologize to David Shannon ahead of time for essentially burning his book.  Then again maybe he needs to apologize to my daughter for scaring her for life!

This is an original nycmomsblog post.

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One reply on “The Accidental Book Burning Mom”

  1. I can’t believe it!! My daughter has the same problem– started in kindergarten, heading into 4th grade and her fear of this book has resurfaced. she also looks like the girl in the book. she’s afraid to go into book stores, needs to have it hidden when she goes to her cousin’s house, etc. The blood drains from her face when it comes up in conversation. I’m going to try reading text only to her– she’s agreed to listen to it in reverse order– happy ending first. She’s an otherwise normal kid though tends to worry more than my others. I wish she’d never seen this book!!!

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