Underground Library Society

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What would you do if a beloved book, rich in meaning and literature, were to be banned, gone forever? Would you vow to memorize the book in order to save it? I would. When Charles French, a professor of English Literature, formed a society at Lehigh University in his English 2 class for the purpose of appreciating all books – especially those that have been banned over the years – I knew this was more than a brilliant idea. Much like the storyline in Fahrenheit 451, the members of the U.L.S. (Underground Library Society) pick a book to save, if books were banned.

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The society has now grown well beyond the boarders of Lehigh. I chose to champion classic children’s books. Thank you for including me in the U.L.S. I am giving a shoutout to readers to become a member and tell the world about your favorite  book, and why you would save it, if it were banned. Here is my story, in two parts:

First, I picked a banned book, The Story of Little Babaji.  You may be familiar with the original title, Little Black Sambo.  

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The book was written by Helen Bannerman in 1899 after her many years in India.  Who doesn’t remember the tigers running around the tree and turning into butter!    Unfortunately the story has been rewritten over the years depicting the South and blacks.  That wasn’t the original intention of the author.  Most importantly, it is a wonderful book, a classic.  It needs to be preserved, and I vow to do that.

Secondly, I must step up to the plate and vow to memorize and preserve Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White.  This book is most important.  It encompasses all that is meaningful: friendship, overcoming fear, acceptance of others, learning about the world and the marvels of nature, hard work, bravery, life and death, promises… it’s a long list, and a good list.

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The beauty of Charlotte’s Web comes from learning about the world, and about every feeling that is important in order to grow into a good person.  Goodness and knowledge, all on a farm.

Every year I start chapter reading with my preschool class on ‘day one’.  And, the first book I read is Charlotte’s Web.  In barely three weeks of school children are totally hooked.  They adore Wilbur and laugh at the goose repeating words three times.  They trust Charlotte. They have met Templeton the rat, and learned of Wilbur’s fate.  When Charlotte’s demise looked imminent in the hands of Avery’s big stick, there were gasps.

I read to three and four-year-olds about the beauty of life and the fear of death, about morals (and lack thereof), and about friendships (and lack thereof).  That sounds pretty sophisticated for preschoolers, but leave it to the beautifully crafted words of E.B. White.

Twilight settled over Zuckerman’s barn, and a feeling of peace.  Fern knew it was almost suppertime but she couldn’t bear to leave.  Swallows passed on silent wings, in and out of the doorways, bringing food to their young ones.  From across the road a bird sang “Whippoorwill, whippoorwill!”  Lurvy sat down under an apple tree and lit his pipe; the animals sniffed the familiar smell of strong tobacco.  Wilbur heard the trill of a tree toad and the occasional slamming of the kitchen door.  All these sounds made him feel comfortable and happy, for he loved life, and loved to be part of the world on a summer evening.

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked.  I don’t deserve it.  I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte.  “That in itself is a tremendous thing.  I wove my webs for you because I liked you.  After all, what’s a life, anyway?  We’re born, we live a little while, we die.  A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies.  By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.  Heaven knows, anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

These are the the words, stories, and ideals in a book that needs to never be forgotten.  Charlotte’s Web is important to everyone, adults and children alike.  I never tire of reading this book aloud.  Children love it, as do adults.  This classic book will be my contribution to the Underground Library Society.

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Book Review, children's books, Diversity, E.B. White, Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, Learning About the World, Nature, reading, reading aloud, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

88 Responses to Underground Library Society

  1. beetleypete says:

    In the current political climate, I have genuine fears that many books will be altered until their original meaning is lost. Worse still, they may be technically banned, by being quietly removed from sale or display in libraries. Then after that, the ‘uncomfortable’ films will suffer the same fate.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. quiall says:

    I remember both those books! I was introduced to Charlotte’s Web in University and feel in love. It’s beauty makes me cry . . . even today.

  3. beth says:

    I love your choices and understand why you’ve chosen them

  4. Dan Antion says:

    I remember reading those, and others which no longer are “popularly” supported. I hand onto many books. I don’t want them to be lost to the whims of culture.

  5. Ritu says:

    Wonderful words, Jennie 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽

  6. Elizabeth says:

    That is a heartening response to a chilling idea. I will contribute poems long memorized.

  7. Wonderful choices to preserve, Jennie!

  8. A very worthy cause, Jennie. Good for you.

  9. Darlene says:

    Excellent choices, Jennie. I would want to save, Anne of Green Gables, a book that depicts the spirit of a young, unwanted girl who lives life to the fullest no matter what.

  10. I remember Little Black Sambo and I recall you mentioning once before that the name had been changed. I have never seen this book with the new name in any book shops I’ve visited. Charlotte’s Web is a wonderful book, Jennie, and I know you love it.

    • Jennie says:

      The book is older, so many bookstores might not have it. It is available on Amazon. Charlotte’s Web is such a classic that it is easier to find. Yes, I dearly love it!

  11. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you so much for your contributions to the Underground Library Society!

  12. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is another U. L. S. The Underground Library Society post from that wonderful teach, Jennie!

  13. Shoes says:

    I also remember both of those books and adore them. I loved Tikki Tikki Timbo and all of the Sweet Pickles books as a child (and still love rereading them now).

  14. cindy knoke says:

    Charlotte’s Web was such perfection, a reflection of the pure goodness of children. Love The ULS and two wonderful educators, Jennie & Charles!

  15. bethblogger123 says:

    Wow! I love that you read Charlotte’s Web to preschoolers. I am a first grade teacher and love this book, but have always been afraid that the theme of death is too heavy for my firsties to handle. This gives me hope for the coming school year and excitement that I can share this book with them! Thank you for this!
    http://www.TeensTeachingAndTakeout.com

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Beth. I am thrilled to know that you might read Charlotte’s Web aloud when the school year begins! I’ve learned over the years that ‘facing’ death with kids through literature opens so many doors. They want to know and understand. The questions and discussions that happen are wonderful. Do I cry when Charlotte dies? Yes! And when the children see that, it gives them a big dose of empathy. I think we teachers of younger ones need to teach the social and emotional skills first. Books are our best tool to do that. Best to you, Beth.

  16. I would preserve Wind in the Willows. My mother and I shared many happy moments with it. (I think I may have mentioned it before!)

  17. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    As I switch off.. mentally and electronically … I will leave you with a post by Jennie Fitzkee.. about how just one children’s book can teach a young child acceptance, morality, life, death and friendshp. Do you have a favourite book that you would fight for if it was to be banned? Find out more about the U.L.S. (Underground Library Society) and enjoy the rest of the post.. thanks Sally

  18. I found that curiously moving, thank you. It’s a dangerous thing, censorship, though I acknowledge there are some things best buried – including anything that hates or hurts. I think I’d save Arthur Ransome’s books – simple tales of childhoods long past, and well out of fashion now.

  19. Today I am worried about Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” They were trying to ban it in public schools in California during the late 1990s. I was taking a course in American Literature at the time and Huckleberry was among our read/critiques. This story is not only an American classic, it is part of American history–one in which Jim (a runaway slave) is far from the underdog–in my opinion, he is the hero.

    • Jennie says:

      Well said, Bette. Jim was a hero in the book. How better to learn than to read about the many “wrong” things? In “Little House on the Prairie” I read aloud the sentence, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”, put the book down in shock, and open the door for conversation. Banning shuts the door to empathy and understanding.

  20. petespringerauthor says:

    These two books are definitely worth preserving. Good choices, Jennie. How sad that we even need to have discussions such as these.

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks Pete. Yes, it is sad that we have these discussions. The number of books that people have banned over the years is really distressing.

  21. alexcraigie says:

    Charlotte’s Web? I thought there had to be some mistake here. It’s a beautiful book, deals with mortality with a calm and understanding that children accepted, and if you start to ban books with talking animals as blasphemous you take out a huge slice of children’s literature. Do you apply it to talking engines as well? Do you remove books that mention gods other than your own?
    Voltaire’s “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – is needed in a free world, otherwise whose opinions are the ‘right’ ones? I hate bigotry, racism, sexism – intolerance – but banning it only sends it underground where it can fester unnoticed.
    Charlotte’s web? I’m off to buy a copy.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, those who banned Charlotte’s Web (and other equally wonderful works of literature) shut the door on freedoms, not to mention learning about humanity. My copy is treasured. Thank you for reading and commenting, Alix.

  22. Deepa says:

    I read Charlotte’s Web with my son and we hugged and shed tears when it ended.One of our favorite books… I really hope nothing about this book gets edited ..ever..

    • Jennie says:

      I feel exactly the same way. I cry in front of my students when Charlotte’s babies leave. That’s one of the best ways to teach empathy and humanity. Thank you, Deepa.

  23. The U.L.S. is a wonderful idea. Thank you for the heartful words on it, Jennie. Enjoy your weekend. Michael

  24. Good for you Jennie! You are a champion! Now, are you memorizing this book? Wow!!

  25. dgkaye says:

    Arg, don’t get me started with banning books. For what reason on earth could the works of any writer not be available to those who choose to read it. It’s like bloody book prohibition. And for what reason are they banning Charlotte’s web?:) x

  26. Annika Perry says:

    Jennie, what a brilliant and worthy cause! 😀 I’m taken with the notion of ULS and its aims. Your two books here are terrific, I only recently read Charlotte’s Web – after so many bloggers couldn’t believe I’d never even heard of it! Oh, I was moved to tears and loved the story so much. Not sure I’d want to see the film. A book I loved as young was The Children on the Oregan Trial and Beatrix Potter books!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Annika! Do you follow Charles French’s blog? He is the founder of the ULS, and a great English professor. I am sooo glad you read Charlotte’s Web! Yes, tears and also lessons in humanity. Thank you for reminding me of The Children on the Oregon Trail. I will read the book this summer. Best to you, Annika. 🙂

  27. Léa says:

    Jennie, an excellent post. It is something I value deep in my heart. It is my hope that, in the future, when some personal issues get sorted, I may contribute. You will be a great addition to the team. 🙂

  28. Love the Charlotte’s Web passages you chose to share. Long live all books!

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