In case you haven’t heard, it’s Banned Books Week. As a writer of young adult fiction that might be considered “edgy” or for an “older teen audience,” this is an issue that hits incredibly close to home.
Books are most often challenged by people and groups who, at their core, have the best of intentions: To protect children from explicit and/or difficult material. Still, censorship in any form is wrong. Parents have the right and responsibility to keep their children from material they deem inappropriate; librarians, teachers, religious organizations, and politicians do not.
On a personal note:
I am not exactly a restrictive parent. Granted, my daughter is only four, but I’ve never been one to keep her from things other parents might find unsavory. I have friends who won’t let their kids see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs because “it’s scary.” Yeah… my daughter has watched (and enjoyed) The Walking Dead. In fact, my husband and I used her questions about zombies as a weird sort of teaching moment. Zombies aren’t real… they’re just pretend… those creepers are just regular people wearing crazy make-up.
That said, there are lots (lots!) of things my daughter isn’t ready for. For example, she recently asked me to read her the first Harry Potter book (bless her heart! She’s well aware of how much her mommy loves it!), and I had to explain to her that she’s not old enough for such a story. I don’t doubt that she’d understand the basic good vs. evil concept (she’s seen every Disney movie ever made; heroes and villains are very much a part of her vocabulary), but I’m not ready to expose her to some of Harry‘s darker story lines, particularly the one about his mother sacrificing her life for the love of her child. A little too intense for a four-year-old, I think.
When I am ready to read her Harry Potter, and later, when she’s reading Newbery Honorees and–way down the road–YA fiction, my husband and I intend to use those stories to begin discussions about difficult topics. And why not? Parenting is hard enough without reinventing the wheel. If there’s great literature out there that’ll open up the lines of communication, I intend to use it.
Still, year after year, people and groups continue to challenge books, most often for the following reasons*:
1. The material was considered to be “sexually explicit.”
2. The material contained “offensive language.”
3. The material was “unsuited to any age group.”
2010’s list of Most Challenged Books*:
- And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
- Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexually explicit
- Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
- Lush, by Natasha Friend
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
- What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
- Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint
- Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: homosexuality and sexually explicit
- Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence
2. We can voice the importance of the First Amendment and (especially) the power of literature.
3. We can support librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to who fight to keep “inappropriate” books in library and school collections.
4. We can continue to buy, borrow, loan, read, and recommend banned and challenged books. (Read Twenty Boy Summer! Read Speak! Read To Kill a Mockingbird! Read The Hunger Games! Read The Grapes of Wrath!)
Now, excuse me while I hop down from my soapbox. I want to go read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. How will you celebrate Banned Books Week? *Statistics and lists borrowed from the American Library Association’s Banned and Challenged Books page. Please do visit the ALA’s site for more information.