Here at The Discriminating Fangirl, we read banned books.
Every year, the American Library Association reports that concerned parties tend to focus their efforts on required reading choices in schools, school libraries, and public libraries. Many may mean well, stating reasons such as explicit content, offensive language, and/or being too mature for a certain age group when they challenge a book. Others wish to remove books based on personal prejudices. Then there are those who really go out on a limb with their reasoning as to why a work should be restricted.
Last year, parents of middle schoolers in Queens, New York wanted Sherman Alexie’s coming of age story, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, removed from school reading lists. This has been frequently challenge, and in some cases successfully removed, due to its honest depictions of alcoholism and drug use, racism, and sexuality. The mother who headed up the group claimed the book was “like 50 Shades of Grey for kids” because its main character, Junior, references masturbation:
And if God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs. So I thank God for my thumbs.
Having read Alexie’s book, I can assure you that it is a million times better written than 50 Shades and the teenagers in it are far more mature than any of E.L. James’ derivative characters. I get the feeling that this woman only scanned the book, if she even read it at all, and came up with this sensationalized opinion to sell her viewpoint on other parents in this school. If you want to avoid talking to your kids about masturbation – or any other sensitive subject – because it makes you uncomfortable, then that is your business. Don’t just make things up. Instead of trying to remove a book completely, work with the school to come up with other titles that may be more suitable to your family’s views.
Even the dictionary isn’t safe from book banning. Four years ago, a school in Riverside, CA pulled the 10th edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary from fourth and fifth grade shelves. Why? Well, for having dirty words in it, of course! Dirty words like the definition of oral sex. The first thing I reach for when I’d like to get all hot and bothered is my thick, hard dictionary. The removal of these books was temporary, and they were returned within a couple of days.
Parents aren’t always concerned with the explicitness or the violence demonstrated in a book, so much as how it will make their children feel after reading it. A group of California parents in 1993 tried to ban Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for being a bummer. Myron Levoy’s Alan and Naomi faced a similar issue a couple years earlier when two Carroll County, Maryland school board members challenged it due to its sad ending. Members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee in the early 1980s wanted to ban Anne Frank’s account of her family’s attempt to hide from the Nazis for being “a real downer.” I guess all those other books about The Holocaust are just so much fun.
Sometimes, people just want to make sure a book isn’t inciting criminal behavior, or just bad behavior. One person challenged Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic because it “encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” First, kids are breaking dishes instead of drying them and the next thing you know, they’re breaking shop windows and stealing. Madness!
Another major concern raised by many challengers is the religious viewpoint presented in a work. Back in 1991, a practicing witch and mother of two objected to a Walnut Creek, California school’s inclusion of the Grimm’s classic fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel.” She claimed that the book fostered the same kind of groupthink that led to the persecution of women assumed to be witches centuries ago. I have a feeling she probably wasn’t a fan of the Jeremy Renner-Gemma Arterton movie adaptation.
Regardless of the motivation behind challenging or banning books, it is still censorship and censorship helps no one. There are, however, ways that you can get involved and make sure that everyone has a right to read. The Banned Books Week website features resources for artists, writers, teachers, students, kids, and parents, as well as others, to support intellectual freedom.