I just found out that my favorite childhood book was banned.
I’ve posted recently about Harry the Dirty Dog and other books my family members and I loved, but Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig, has always been my personal winner as well as the Caldecott winner of 1970. When I bought a used copy from a library sale, my boys were very little. I got choked up reading it to them back then and again rereading it now. Sylvester’s parents represented my parents, and I imagined that I was as adored a child as Sylvester. (Mom?)
What I say is Phooey on you banned books people! Pigs can be anything they want to be!
I am not the only person who loves Sylvester. The School Library Journal named it #55 on the Top 100 Picture Books list last year. It was also recognized as one of the top 100 books of the 20th century by the New York Public Library, the California Teachers’ Association, and the National Education Association. Other bloggers have posted about it more knowledgeably than I can. Anyone can find worksheets, activities, lesson plans, and videos. But I don’t believe we have to justify art with curriculum connections. I love Sylvester because it’s a beautiful story with great illustrations. It touched me personally. I don’t love it because it can teach children about philosophy, emotions, character, perspective, and improve their critical thinking. Those things are valuable, but don’t we degrade the art experience by stuffing it with learning objectives? When my son wants to go to a Bon Jovi concert, I don’t require him to write a one-page biography of John Bongiovi with endnotes and create a video exploring the roots of modern rock music from the Delta Blues through the Beatles, focusing on politics and racism. I just let him have fun.
Read an essay about Steig’s art from Roz Chast at the Paris Review. You can also check out the New Yorker’s lovely article about William Steig shortly after his death. The Jewish Museum in New York held a retrospective of Steig’s art in 2007-08.
If you haven’t had the joy of reading Sylvester, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say there is a reason to discover why it is one of the most beloved children’s books ever written.
Do you love Sylvester or another book? I’d love to hear about it!