This week is Banned Books Week. I will admit, I always find the idea of banned books ridiculous. Here we have a legion of kids who we are trying to get reading and what happens – books get banned! In some ways, it’s the best thing for them – perhaps more people will read them to figure out what’s so wrong about them. But banning books just seems so very wrong.
I teach. With that job, I make decisions that will impact students daily. However, within these decisions, there is still choice and there is still freedom. Students are given the time to work on something – the decision is made to assign work. If they do not do it, they have decided that they would rather choose the negative consequences of not doing work over the positive consequences of having their work done. If I assign a book, students choose if they will read it or not, thus making that positive vs negative consequence choice again. And further to that, if I assign a book and they read it, they will make decisions about how they feel about the book – did they like it, did they hate it, was it believable, did they agree with the theme – so many decisions happen, just by reading a book.
To be fair, when I was in the library, there were a couple books I did not put out, even though I purchased them. One book, very detailed about suicide methods, I debated internally and then got advice from the Guidance Councillor. She got advice from the board Educational Psychologist. We determined that due to school climate, it might not be a good idea to put out, however, I could put it in the catalogue for those searching for a book. This was to have a conversation with the person checking it out, just to gauge some of their reasoning behind their interest. This was not an easily made decision, but it was one that we felt kept choice in the hands of the students.
So, if I ban books, I’m taking that choice away. I’m saying that they can’t be trusted to make up their mind about an issue and that they are not strong enough to resist the messages of that book. There’s magic? Obviously the child reader is not strong enough to resist devil worship (even if the devil isn’t mentioned at all). There’s sex? Well, when will we hold the baby shower as they will obviously be pregnant with twins within minutes of reading it. There’s “alternative lifestyles”. Road to heck, seriously, the road to heck. However, if I let a child read a book that may contain what some deem “questionable themes”, I’m letting them explore the world. They might learn about something more than I could ever teach – how friendship can help save the day. How love is love, no matter the gender. How hate can win if you let it – but here’s how to stop it. Books can bring you the world – you just have to be ready to explore.
Plus, who’s to say that things I feel are wrong are wrong for everyone? Who’s to say that what I don’t like to read because I disagree with it won’t open up the eyes and mind of a child? I applaud not making anti-Holocaust materials available from retailers, but for the child that is doing research, that move is one that limits their ability to see both sides. We can only trust that they know enough to come out on the side of right – the Holocaust did happen (and genocide continues to happen) – but they won’t be able to understand the personal side of it all if we keep it from them.
According to the ALA, the top ten banned books of 2013 are:
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
- The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
- A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
- Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence
‘Captain Underpants’ has done so much for literacy, especially in hard to reach boys. ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’ is a great way to introduce issues in First Nations studies. ‘The Hunger Games’ has no religion in it (maybe that’s the issue!). ‘Looking for Alaska’ and ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ tell of teenage life, perhaps dramatizing it a little, but show a specific journey people take at that point in their lives. None of these books are banned for being poorly written. I would guess most are banned because the complainant didn’t read it before their child did and are mad about them getting a hold of it.
If you don’t want your child to read something, don’t let them. Discuss it with them and determine what they have to do, maturity wise, to read a book. Give them lessons in history and context and allow them to apply those as they approach their reading. Talk to them about communication and encourage them to ask questions as they read. Have a read-a-long with them so you know what they’re doing. Be prepared to tell them a book is a little too mature for them and explain what that means. Communicate. Don’t ban. Allow them to choose and help them develop their ability to choose well. They’re the ones who will be making those choices in the future and we need to make sure that it’s a skill they have.
And with that, 19 Banned Books with redone titles, just to make them a little more palatable.