Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Banned Books Week

“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” 
― Benjamin Franklin

My sister got me this awesome mug for my birthday last summer.

I couldn't help but notice how many of the books on it are well-established classics.  There may still be people who object to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, (and there may even be people who actually still read The Origin of the Species or The Social Contract), but I don't think any of them are truly controversial reads within any kind of academic community, or society at large.

(The exception, oddly, is And Tango Makes Three, a charming picture book about two male penguins hatching an abandoned egg.  This book is frequently challenged in school libraries and remains actively controversial.)

Banning books is not just an archaic practice, or the act of extremists.  Banning books isn't just about book burnings and jihads against writers who blaspheme against Mohammad. Banning books can take more subtle forms.  Censorship. Gatekeeping.  Downplaying.

Banning books looks like a middle school principal asking all English teachers to be sure Eleanor & Park isn't in their classroom library because a parent just e-mailed him a list of all the vulgar language in the book.

Banning books is those teachers complying.

Banning books looks like a parent calling a teacher to berate her for reading Lois Lowry's Newbery award winning children's book The Giver with her 8th grade class, because it portrays a society in which unwanted babies are killed.

Banning books looks like a teen librarian's low-key display of GLBQT books for Pride Week being taken down after one day, even though the books are already available in the YA collection.

Banning books is authors being dis-invited from visiting schools when someone in the community realizes that their book admits the existence of substance abuse, or bisexuality, or racism.

Banning books is a teacher deciding not to purchase certain books for her classroom library that she knows her students will love, because she also knows some parents will object.  She rationalizes this with the hope they will read the books in high school.

Banning books is another teacher's decision to not buy any movie novelizations for her classroom, because they are poor quality literature, even though her students have specifically asked her to.

None of these examples are fictitious.  All are either things I've experienced directly, or well-documented events I've learned about from other bloggers.  They have all taken place in the last three years.

Don't just celebrate OUR freedom to read banned books.  Be mindful of the freedoms of others, especially young people.  Not every book is right for every kid, and not every kid is ready for the same books at the same time.  But they need access.  They deserve choice.  They have the right to find the book that speaks to them without adults telling them what that book should be.  I am lucky enough to live in a society in which I can easily obtain books without interference from any outside agencies or individuals.  In such societies, children and teens are the ones whose right to read is most vulnerable.

“And there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read becuase they live in an often-terrible world. They read becuause they believe, despire the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them."
― Sherman Alexie

And, just for fun, here's a quiz Penguin Books created to help you pick the banned book you should read next.  Mine said Song of Solomon, which was a definite favorite of mine back in the day.  Maybe it's time for a re-read!


  1. The quiz told me to read The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve never read that one, so maybe I should.

    Banning books is something I don’t understand. If a parent doesn’t want their kid to read a book, that’s fine, but why ruin it for everyone?

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. I always assumed I would hate all Steinbeck, but several years ago I was far from home and obtained a copy of Grapes of Wrath when I had nothing else to read. The first chapter is about a turtle crossing a road, and he manages to make it RIVETING. I was blown away, but I'm also so glad I didn't try to read it when I was younger, because I'm sure it would have bored me to tears.

  2. Ooh gotta check out that Penguin quiz. Seriously though, good point about the downplaying or just keeping things out of classrooms.

  3. This is a great post from the perspective of a teacher, Wendy. I know that you are directly affected by parental decisions every single day. I have to say that I might be more conservative about what my MG (and now HS) kids read than other parents. (I'm pretty sure you read my post about that.) I have the luxury of not having to worry about assigned reading (or even classroom libraries) because I homeschool my kids. I know what my kids are reading, and I can always discuss it with them. I confess that I understand why parents might want to monitor what their OWN kids are reading--I wouldn't presume to make that decision for other people's kids, and I don't know that I would ever refuse to have my kids read something with a class--I would just be sure to talk about anything I thought was questionable and tell them why I hold my views. I know it can be a slippery slope, though, and those judgments can be hard to make. (For instance, The Giver, which I thought was a fantastic book and I read with my kids. It led to thought-provoking discussion about the value of life, among other things. I would always suggest to parents who want to "ban" something that's being read in a public school setting to just read it along with their kids and TALK to them about it, but I can understand the instinct to protect.)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. My kids are young for their age in some ways, and I'm totally with you on being mindful of what they are reading. Yet I know other kids their age who are totally ready for YA works. Just today my ten year old daughter asked to turn off of a PG rated princess movie we were watching because the bad guys were too scary for her--a great example of children being able to self-censor--specifically of her knowing better than I did what she was ready for.

    2. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm 100% behind parents making decisions about what their own kids are ready for and 100% opposed to parents making decisions about what I make available to all of my students in my classroom library.

  4. Wendy- Well, said, all of it. One of the reasons writers include "hot" topics is to provoke conversation, right? Like Nicole said, talk to your child. It's an opportunity, parents. Grab it.
    PS. Banned books is a parent forbidding their family to read a book that contains magic and witches, or one that includes unflattering perspectives on their religion.


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