Did you try and ban a book last week? I hope so! It was banned books week!
Stupid jokes aside, the American Library Association sets aside one week at the beginning of October to highlight issues of censorship and to celebrate our freedom to read.
Are there issues with banned books week? Sure. The ALA counts anything that’s been challenged as banned. A challenge can be anything from requesting a book not be required reading to requesting a book be taken out of the library. Nothing in America is truly banned in the sense we tend to think about. If a book is removed from the school library, it’s still at the public library. If it’s taken out of the public library, it’s still at the bookstore. But… it’s a slippery slope, and the ALA knows it.
Especially when, in having conversations this week, I can hear someone, in the same breath, decry people trying to ban books and then wishing And Tango Makes Three had a warning sticker on it. (The book by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson tells the true story of two male penguins at the New York City zoo raising a baby penguin. It was the most challenged or banned book in 2006, according to the ALA.) Or when a parent is upset I don’t have a handout listing all the banned books and why they are banned. I had to explain that the books banned or challenged in the past year is 8 pages long. The main list is a book that is hundreds of pages long with tiny print.
I keep track of banned books in the news. I have a listmania list at Amazon. When it comes time to put together a banned books display at work, I don’t have to look anything up. I just walk through the stacks, pulling the books I know (and love.)
Harry Potter? promotes Satanism
Harriet the Spy? promotes misbehavior and sass talk
Where the Sidewalk Ends? might encourage children to break dishes instead of breaking them
The Well? it’s hard to tell a story about racism without using some racist language
Goosebumps? too scary
Bermudez Triangle? has lesbians
In the Night Kitchen? full frontal nudity! (that won a Caldecott honor)
The Alice Books? talks about puberty and sex
It’s not the Stork? imagine… a sex ed book and it talks about sex
Are you There God? It’s me, Margaret? puberty
Diary of Anne Frank? too depressing
The Lorax? is anti-logging industry
And it’s not just children. George Carlin’s new book When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops is currently being challenged at a public library because an adult patron was horribly offended at the language. (Did she not know who George Carlin is?!)
Yes, I realize not every book is right for every child (or every reader). But, just because a book is not right for you or your child does not mean it’s not right for any child. And, if you have concerns about what your children read, then monitor it. You don’t want your kid to hear a book about gay penguins? Don’t read it to them!
But really? I hope you let your kids read whatever they want. I know there are scary situations in the world and they appear in books but… I’m so glad I met a lot of the world’s awfulness through literature first. It made it so much easier to handle when I had to deal with it in real life.
As Roger Sutton (editor of the Horn Book) said:
Libraries should be a place where children can run happily afoul of their parents fears, aspirations, protection and authority. What better place to learn to think for yourself? …Just because parents have the legal right to control their children’s reading does not mean that we should encourage them to do so.
And I agree. If we’re going to celebrate the Freedom to Read, then let’s really give our children the freedom to do just that– read. Let them read whatever they want. Let them discover new ideas and new worlds. Let them read materials that challenge your beliefs. Let them read in order to figure out the world. Let us all read.
–Jennie aka kidsilkhaze