For those living in or around New York City, the New York Public Library currently has an exhibition called “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” As the title suggests, the exhibit looks at popular children’s stories—consisting of The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins to Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking) and Goodnight Moon—from a historical perspective and examines the cultural impact of books and stories on society.
When I visited the exhibit one section caught my attention: books that have been censored. There were the usual “culprits” including Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so censored because of its use of racial epithets and stereotypes. Also represented was The Diary of a Young Girl in which Anne Frank describes her own genitalia. The library highlighted that portion of the diary so visitors could read Anne’s description:
Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you’re standing, so you can’t see what’s inside. They separate when you sit down, and they’re very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris.
Anne’s narrative of her own body is an honest picture of the female body and I was pleasantly surprised that the New York Public Library decided to enlarge the text and bring such attention to it.
Another book mentioned is an obvious classic in the menstrual world, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume. As a menstrual scholar I was waiting to read how the discussion of puberty and menstruation was deemed too much and the book was censored for such depictions. However, the enlarged book page that accompanied the exhibit was from the section where Margaret laments her lack of breasts and eventually asks her mother for her first bra:
All through supper I thought about how I was going to tell my mother I wanted to wear a bra. I wondered why she hadn’t ever asked me if I wanted one, since she knew so much about being a girl.
When she came in to kiss me goodnight I said it. “I want to wear a bra.” Just like that—no beating around the bush.
I was a bit surprised that the library chose this portion of the book to use as an example. The seemingly tame thoughts about wanting a bra counter the more graphic description of the female body that Anne Frank mentions in her diary. Furthermore, menstruation was never mentioned as for the reasons why Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. was censored (the word “puberty” was mentioned, though).