Banned Books Week



Today kicks off the start of Banned Books Week, first launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries.

As far as I can remember, no one has ever told me not to read a book. When I was eleven, my grandma (my grandmother, people) gave me one of those Fabio-adorned paperbacks called The Prince and His Secretary (title not exaggerated or misremembered) and it became the basis of my budding sex education. If don’t think my literary maturation would have suffered much without it, but the point is it never occurred to me that books could be prohibited in the same way alcohol and drugs were to me at the time.

I support Banned Books Week not in defense of trash, but in opposition of censorship. I think a parent has a right to monitor what their child reads and watches, but book banning goes beyond that. It makes a mass decision for every child in the school. If it’s not right for my child, they’re saying, it’s not right for any child and no child shall have access to it [insert gavel pounding].

Anyway, most of the time banning a book has the reverse effect of bringing said book more attention. In one of my classes studying literature for adolescents, Judy Blume (who is a fine, fine example of anti-censorship) came up in our discussion, and one girl shared a memory from her high school. Blume’s Forever was banned, but before they could remove it from the library, it was stolen. That copy was passed from student to student, on the bus and in the hallways, signatures and comments written on the inside of the cover, until even the students who likely never would have picked it off the library shelf had read it with atypical focus.

(That being said, if my books are ever published, by all means challenge them. It’s great publicity.)

Finally—I think children should be shown trust in their intelligence. Kids are smart. They, like most of us, absorb and learn from books—but they don’t mindlessly imitate. A book can shape how we see and make sense of the world, sure. But I propose the world might be a better place if the lens through which we observed had been deepened, broadened and heightened by good books.

Here are the most challenged books of 2011 (I note, with admiration, that good ol’ Harper Lee is still making waves after all these years):

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism

So, go read a banned book this week. (:

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