(i read banned books shirt, available through my Zazzle store)
Since 1982, the last week of September has been designated as Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association, it is a time to draw attention to "the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States." Books in our local libraries, schools and bookstores are challenged all the time, usually by people who object to the book's content or message and want to prevent others from having access to the materials they find so offensive. As an avid reader, a writer and a mother, I have a problem with the few who attempt to take something away from everybody just because it does not gel with their moral code.
This is just a partial list of books I love, books that have been challenged at one time or another:
-Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
-A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L'Engle
-The Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
-To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
-Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
-The Color Purple - Alice Walker
-The Kite Runner - Khaled Hossieni
-His Dark Materials Trilogy - Phillip Pullman
-Deenie - Judy Blume
-Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
-One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
-Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred D. Taylor
With the exception of the more recent titles (Harry Potter, The Kite Runner, His Dark Materials), the above are all books I was required to read in class or that I found on my own in the library. I cannot imagine going through childhood without Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret or A Wrinkle in Time, books I found at my public and elementary school libraries, respectively. I was one of those kids who read everything she could get her hands on and I am very fortunate that my parents did not screen my reading material. I mean, maybe they did but if they did they didn't do a very great job of it, considering I read Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret when I was seven years old. I have a seven year old. I cannot imagine letting him read that book right now. (Not that it matters. I am quite sure he would have no interest in it.) And that's just the thing. You might say that I am a hypocrite, writing about freedom of speech and in the next breath saying I won't let my son read a certain book. That's not what I'm saying at all. As a parent, I have a responsibility to make sure the my kids' reading material is age and reading level appropriate. That's very different than wanting to keep the book out of my son's school library altogether.
As my kids get older they will no doubt choose (or be required) to read books that have received challenges. I hope that when the time comes we'll actually be able to talk about not just the stories, but the reasons people felt threatened by them and why it's important that these books continue to remain available. And should one of their teachers ever come under fire for a book that he or she chooses to introduce in the classroom, I plan to be the mom who leads the charge to defend that teacher and that book.
Later this week I will be posting my own review (complete with recipe, of course) of a challenged book. For more information about Banned Books Week, please visit the American Library Association's page
on the topic. While there you can check out the list of the top 100 challenged books of the past decade (2000 - 2009).