September 25-October 1 is Banned Book Week, Celebrating the Freedom to Read. We may not think much about banned books. It seems rather old-fashioned in this tolerant society to even consider banning a book. However, books are challenged and banned every day. As a library media specialist (LMS), I keep up with the list and am proud to say I’ve read most of the top 100. http://www.ala.org/bbooks/top-100-bannedchallenged-books-2000-2009 If you check out the list, you will see that many are classics. Many of them are books you have read and may have read to your children. They are part of the Advanced Placement reading lists for high schools across the nation. They are award winners and Nobel winners and although some may not be to my personal taste (or even standards) they are stories the an author felt the need to tell. Many of them contained content I did not agree with from a moral or ethical standpoint. Many of them contained subject matter about which I did not want to read. However, I feel it is important to expose myself to a variety of thoughts and ideas and viewpoints in order to be a well-rounded person, and a well-read LMS. The list is quite frightening, to see that students, and sometimes the general public, are denied access to a delightful story simply because it offended one person. In many book challenge cases, the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” and it is very unfortunate. Imagine if YOU had been denied access to these books:
Both of these titles were banned for being racially offensive.
This was banned for being pornographic. (As a refresher to your high school English required reading, there is no sexual content AT ALL in the book, just a “mysterious” pregnancy and even it was handled with the sensibilities of the 19th century.)
I personally feel this should be required reading, and in many schools and states it is. It was banned for “conflicting with community values.”
Harriet was banned because she “talked back to her parents.” Wow.
Frankenstein was banned for being obscene and indecent.
Poor Anne. She was banned for being too depressing.
And Alice and talking animals. Yep, talking animals got Alice pulled from shelves.
I saved my favorite (and in my opinion most ridiculous) for last. The good Dr. and his Green Eggs and Ham were banned for promoting a Marxist agenda.
So, before you decide to challenge a book or even censor the exposure of a title to your children, students, friends, do what I always taught my students. Read it. (Not just excerpts and not just fanning through it looking for “dirty” words or scenes.) Read it. Ask yourself these questions:
Why did the author tell this story? (Is it the story of a minority people/group/idea that may speak to even one person? Is this a story someone you know could relate to on a personal level? Did this story open your eyes to how someone else may view the world or themselves?)
Why did the author use that word choice? (Could it have been changed? Probably. However, they chose it for a reason. What does it reveal about the character who spoke it? Is it helping them express their anger or frustration or showing them to be the bad guy? And no, we never repeat them on the playground!)
What did you learn about yourself from this story? (Sadly enough, I’ve been made aware of my own prejudices and judgments and sometimes shallow view points.)
One of the scariest and most exhilarating things about books is they expose us for who we are, and as I’ve discovered, sometimes it’s not a person I like very much. So read. Read, read, and read a bit more. Allow the stories and characters and experiences we have through books to move us and change us and make us better people. I had this poster printed and framed for my “old” library and I need to find a place to hang it in my new one. It is the Rights of the Reader. http://www2.curriculum.edu.au/verve/_resources/Connections_72_poster.pdf
Having said all I have about banning books, we still have the right to read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.