Why I Read “Where’s Waldo” and Other Banned Books

I glanced over at the clock. 1:15 a.m. I had been reading for over four hours straight.

Vonnegut will do that to you.

I dug my fist into the family-size bag of licorice swaddled next to me on the bedspread and noticed that my stash was getting low… and that I had absentmindedly eaten all of the black pieces. Crap. The remaining tidbits of red vines were going to have to sustain me as I plowed through Slaughterhouse-Five with delighted intensity. My fifteen-year-old mind tried to wrap itself around the deeper meanings in the book as I delved into the world of Billy Pilgrim, Kilgore Trout, and alien abductions. The imagery was delicious and left my impressionable mind reeling.

It was there, in my bedroom, during the witching hours of dateless Friday and Saturday nights, that I fell in love with banned books.

We were not encouraged to read Kurt Vonnegut in high school. I had to seek his books out at the public library, as they were always missing from our school library’s shelves. Mysterious.

Twenty-five years later, books are still missing from shelves. Communities are still attempting to ban or challenge books, to remove certain works from school curriculums and libraries. And while I understand that the underlying desire driving these pursuits is to protect others from difficult ideas and information, over 11,000 books have been publicly challenged since 1982.


Books such as:

To Kill a Mockingbird- by Harper Lee

The Call of the Wild- by Jack London

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- by Mark Twain

Of Mice & Men- by John Steinbeck

Anything by Ernest Hemingway

Where the Wild Things Are- by Maurice Sendak

Even the beloved Shel Silverstein has been repeatedly challenged for his delightfully illogical and magical book of poems, ‘A Light in the Attic’.


According to some, this poem encourages messiness and disobedience… and should be banned.

Silverstein’s poem “Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony” is criticized for describing the “dramatic” death of a girl after her parents refuse to buy her a pony. Well, hell… ban it! Rather than reading it with children and laughing together about the absurdity of willful death upon not getting something you want (such as an iPhone 6+), banning the whole damn book seems like a much more viable option.

What about this little nugget?

“Ladies First” by Shel Silverstein

 Pamela Purse yelled, “Ladies first,”

Pushing in front of the ice cream line.

Pamela Purse yelled, “Ladies first,”

Grabbing the ketchup at dinnertime.

Climbing on the morning bus

She’d shove right by all of us

And there’d be a tiff or a fight or a fuss

When Pamela Purse yelled, “Ladies first.”

Pamela Purse screamed, “Ladies first,”

When we went off on our jungle trip.

Pamela Purse said her thirst was worse

And guzzled our water, every sip.

And when we got grabbed by that wild savage band,

Who tied us together and made us all stand

In a long line in front of the King of the land-

A cannibal known as Fry-‘Em-Up Dan,

Who sat on his throne in a bib so grand

With a lick of his lips and a fork in his hand,

As he tried to decide who’d be the first in the pan-

From the back of the line, in that shrill voice of hers,

Pamela Purse yelled, “Ladies first.”

I remember acting out this poem with my father during a Daddy-Daughter party when I was nine and not once did I ever think that this poem “glorified cannibalism.” If anything, it taught me to be a more considerate child.

Even ‘Where’s Waldo’ made the list of banned books… because of this:


A bit of side boob, tucked into a page containing 254,367 other images. Heaven forbid that children know about breasts, especially when every other person on the face of the earth is walking around with a set.

Let’s talk about capers.

Remember the first time you tried them? Either you loved them or you hated them, right?

Let’s say you hate capers… more than you’ve hated anything in your life. They might as well be the kidney stones of the devil himself. The very thought of a caper touching your lips makes you throw up a bit in your mouth.

I love capers.

I love them so much that I have a huge jar of capers in my refrigerator because these little bits of goodness go on E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.

Are you going to demand that I stop eating capers just because you hate the taste of them?

Will you waltz into a grocery store and begin smashing jars of capers onto the linoleum floor so that NO ONE can ever eat capers again?

Just because you don’t like them?

No. Because that would be fucking ridiculous.

If you don’t like capers, don’t eat capers.

If you don’t think your children should like capers either, that’s cool. Talk to them about capers. Let them know why you despise capers so much. Ban capers from the house (but don’t be surprised when you find a jar of contraband capers hidden in their backpack one day).

I think it’s pretty simple.

If you don’t like a certain book, don’t read it.

If you don’t like a particular author, read someone else’s work.

You don’t get to decide whether or not I eat capers. And you REALLY don’t get to decide which books I will or will not read.

Coming down from the rafters.

I get really passionate about writing… and censorship. As a writer, words are an expression of what’s rattling my soul. My thoughts are unique and when I put them onto paper, they rally around my view of the world. Sometimes it’s not pretty.

Because life is full of gritty stuff.

It’s also full of breathtaking brilliance. I write about that, too

The world needs radical ideas and they should circulate freely. Viewpoints should be valued. I may not always agree, but I want to know.

This is why I read banned books. How about you?

Read more about Banned Books week here.

8 comments leave a reply
  • September 25, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Oh wow, this post had me swinging from despair to laughter and back again! I had no idea such banning was going on and it seems so strange to me. Books are the perfect safe place to grapple with difficult ideas and information, helping to form thoughts and opinions on a wide cross-section of things you might never come across in the daily life (or at least need to understand before you do encounter them). But thank you SO MUCH for ‘A light in the attic’. I chose the shortest (2 line) poem from that book for a forced poetry contest at school, but the ideas and boundary-pushing are just fantastic for children and adults alike.


    • September 26, 2014 at 9:43 am

      I agree, Jo! Books provide a haven for self-expression, not to mention pushing the boundaries of imagination.

      It’s nice to hear from another ‘A Light in the Attic’ fan! 🙂


  • September 25, 2014 at 11:32 am

    I wonder how many people have actually READ, from front to back, the books they claim to find so offensive. Why “ban” something instead of having a conversation with your child about why you have issues with it? Having the conversation is parenting. Banning the book (especially from a public library), strikes me as extreme and lazy. But I’m not a parent, so what do I know?

    I’ve never made a point of reading a book because it was banned. But from the short list above, I’ve read quite a few challenged titles – To Kill a Mockingbird being my favorite.


    • September 26, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Books definitely open up the chance to have meaningful conversations. I wish more people realized this. *sigh*

      If you check out some of the links in the post, you’ll be taken to pages that show the top banned and challenged books from each recent decade. It’s alarming and puzzling.


  • September 25, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Such a great rant, Maisie! I wish you lived in LA and could lend your passion to WriteGirl – it’s an awesome nonprofit that works with teenage girls in much the same way you’re wishing to do – you’d be such a fantastic addition to the mentor team!

    It’s astounding what power fear has. Thank goodness the written word has more.


    • September 26, 2014 at 9:47 am

      I love WriteGirl! I refer back to their website often… so much good info!

      Thanks for the comment, Emily!


  • September 25, 2014 at 7:04 pm
    Kathryn Brown

    What a great read, Maisie! I’d really forgotten how many books fall in this category!


    • September 26, 2014 at 9:47 am

      Thanks, Kathryn! It’s befuddling how many books are challenged/banned each year.


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