This week (Sept. 21-27) is Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Every year, the American Library Association collects reports of attempts to ban or challenge books in classrooms, schools, and public libraries in order to study censorship and raise awareness. Check out the Top Ten Challenged Books lists of the 21st Century, which also includes reasons the book were challenged.
The reasons for the challenging of these “banned books” elicit pause: violence, sexually explicit, racism, drugs… all things that might keep you up at night, especially if you have children. Other reasons may be seen as more subjective or dependent upon personal values: political viewpoint, Occult/Satanism, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint. The majority of challenges came from parents.
Parenting is hard. There’s a constant questioning that comes along with parenthood- you never really know if you’re doing the best thing for your child. Decision making is made even more difficult when you’re dealing with difficult subjects: racism, violence, sex. Part of being a parent is the drive to protect your child, wanting to shield them from all the terrible things in the world- things that you hope they will never have to experience personally.
I certainly can understand the desire to shield children from some subjects. They’re kids: blank, unmarred slates upon which, as parents/educators/caretakers, we draft a filter through which the child will experience the world. I say draft, because at some point they’ll grow up. They’ll explore the world for themselves, holding fast to some of what they’ve been taught and replacing others with new truths- the world as they define it. I hold no delusions that my daughter will see the world as I see it, and that’s the best thing I could hope for! The world is constantly changing.
I’ve talked a bit before about my take on parenting in the digital age and it’s a stance I take on books as well. These “hard truths” (some admittedly harder than others) are, in my opinion, best dealt with head-on. I believe unfettered access to information is best for my child. My husband and I try to keep an open dialogue with our daughter, where (we hope) she feels comfortable asking us questions about anything. Banning children from accessing information just makes them more curious to do it anyway, with the added disadvantage of having no authority figure to consult if things get confusing.
So with that in mind, I’ll encourage my daughter to read anything she takes an interest in. I did find some studies about children’s exposure to inappropriate material (though they all dealt with media in general, none specifically about books), but nearly all agreed that banning your child from all inappropriate media is an impossible feat and evidence suggests talking openly with children ameliorates any negative effects that such media may otherwise have. On the other other hand, there are numerous studies about the positive impact of reading on children, even beyond early literacy.
If you’re interested in checking out a banned book, visit your local library for their “Banned Books Week” display or check out some of these:
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
“The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “religious viewpoints” and for being “unsuited for age group.”
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
“Of all the contenders for the title of The Great American Novel, none has a better claim than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Intended at first as a simple story of a boy’s adventures in the Mississippi Valley – a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – the book grew and matured under Twain’s hand into a work of immeasurable richness and complexity.” – Good Reads
Challenged as “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (& series) – J.K. Rowling
“Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick, never worn a Cloak of Invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys… But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives… with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him…” – Good Reads
Challenged for promoting “occult/Satanism.”
Bone (& series) – Jeff Smith
In this graphic novel, “three modern cartoon cousins get lost in a pre-technological valley, spending a year there making new friends and out-running dangerous enemies. Their many adventures include crossing the local people in The Great Cow Race, and meeting a giant mountain lion called RockJaw: Master of the Eastern Border. They learn about sacrifice and hardship in The Ghost Circles and finally discover their own true natures in the climatic journey to The Crown of Horns.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “political viewpoints,” “racism,” and “violence.”
Beloved – Toni Morrison
“Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby…. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “sexual content,” “violence,” and “discussion of beastiality.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
“Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “homosexuality,” “offensive language,” and for being “sexually explicit.”
The Adventures of Captain Underpants – Dav Pilkey
“Two fourth-grade boys who write comic books and love to pull pranks find themselves in big trouble. Mean Mr. Krupp, their principal, videotapes George and Harold setting up their stunts and threatens to expose them. The boys’ luck changes when they send for a 3-D Hypno-Ring and hypnotize Krupp, turning him into Captain Underpants, their own superhero creation.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “offensive language,” “violence,” and being “unsuited for age group.”
Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
“Gone with the Wind is a novel written by Margaret Mitchell, 1st published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County, GA, & Atlanta during the American Civil War & Reconstruction era. It depicts the experiences of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to come out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea.” – Good Reads
Challenged as “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”