Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why I Support Banned Books Week

I'm all decked out in my  I Read Banned Books Bracelet, and ready to start reading my son scathingly controversial books, like Where's Waldo? and A Light in the Attic (both of which have made lists of challenged books). I hope he copes. But, in addition to motivating me to seek out some of these challenged books and to give them a second look, Banned Books Week has also got me thinking about what it means to ban or censor a book, particularly when it relates to children.  

Are there books you would keep out of your home library, and try to keep away from your kids?  I admit that, for me, there are books that I would prefer my son didn't read (books with excess commercialism, violence, inappropriate solutions to problems, fighting, poorly contrived rhymes, Elmo . . . ). Ok, the Elmo was a joke. Sort of. But really, some books do give me pause, and I can see why parents who view school as an extension of their home might become concerned when school libraries add books to their shelves that contain messages that disagree starkly with the lessons they teach their children at home. How would I feel if a publisher dared to release a children's book that promoted the superiority of one race over another and if that book lined the walls of my child's school library? Or, unlike books like And Tango Makes Three, which I reviewed here) and which has topped objection lists for years running, what if a school purchased books saying that homosexuality is wrong and that homosexual men and women will go to hell? It is easy to oppose book banning when the books that are being banned are ones with which I have no objection. In a sense, I am relying on publishers and school librarians to do some self-censoring/banning of their own. But there is a lot of grey in the world.

While pregnant, I reread Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. While I enjoyed most of it very much, I also wondered when an appropriate age might be for a child to be exposed to the racial slurs and generally awful treatment inflicted on former slave Jim, not to mention the references to hangings. Would I want my son to read this? Should I shield him from the hateful language? Logic won out, and Huckleberry Finn earned a spot on our bookshelf. It captures a moment in our country's history that children will need to learn about, and when the time is right, Mark Twain will help us.

For the most part, I'm a firm believer that books bring knowledge, and that knowledge is power. Like we handle everything that life throws at our children, we need to handle books wisely -- to read to our children when they are young, explain stories in age-appropriate language that they can understand, to read alongside them when they're older, to discuss what they read, quiz them, challenge them, teach them. That is the beauty of books. I'm less frightened by what my son might learn from a book than by the prospect of a world that decides for him what knowledge he is allowed to access.  

And that is why I support Banned Books Week.

Please share your thoughts.  Have you posted about Banned Books Week?  Are there books you would prefer that your children never read?  Have you ever questioned the appropriateness of a book that your child has read in school or found at the library?


taralazar said...

My banned books week post needs to be written, but you've given me some things to think about. I, too, have concerns about books written in a different time period, like Huckleberry Finn, but if a parent is aware their child is reading such a book, they can steer the discussion and help the child understand the context. Parents need to guide children, not block them.

Parents are here to help their children make informed decisions, not to shield them from the world. If we go around doing that, we'll raise sheltered children who won't know how to speak for themselves.

Yes, the world is a scary place, but a world where censorship rules is even scarier.

Louise said...

We do not ban books in Denmark, and I have to say that some of the books I've seen on those banned books lists are books I've read and never thought were controversial at all.

I truly understand what you are saying in your post though. There definitely is a lot of grey, its not just black and white. I too do not think that books praising racism etc belongs in a children's library. Not in a million years.

In fact, I do not think they belong in ANY library, period. But that is kind of book banning, isn't it?

As well as I am entitled to MY beliefs, I have to accept that others are entitled to believe in racism or other truly awful things, which I certainly do not condone in any way. I don't know if that makes sense?

I think that, in short, no books should be banned, no matter what their subject and that adults should know very well how to choose the books they want to read, and that parents should guide their children in the direction they find fit, also regarding books and reading.

Christy said...

I always know what my children are reading. My oldest child is twelve and I am aware of every book he reads and the subject matter of the book. If it is something that I may be concerned about, we talk about it but as long as the book is age appropriate, he can read it. I don't believe in banning books. Too many people have the attitude of "Free speech for me, but not for thee". Let me decide if a book is appropriate for my children.

ReadingTub said...

What a wonderful, thought-provoking post to start Celebrate Reading week (I'm trying to be the glass-half-full girl). We bring our beliefs and experiences to books, it's why they affect us so deeply. I won't get started on the revisionism of stories that were representative of society at the time they were written ... By following Christy's model, we show our kids that we're walking the talk, and that even as adults we have things to learn and an open mind. We can talk about Huck Finn as literature, as representative of a different time, as a piece of history, and a character study (how would we feel, what would we do, etc) Bravo, y'all!

MaryAnne said...

I'm not in favor of banning books. It seems to me that a far more effective strategy than banning books is for parents to stay involved with what their children are reading. I always read the books we bring home from the library, and my hope is that, as my children grow into more controversial books, they will discuss what they read with me. As you say, knowledge is power. Although I do see a potential benefit in parents shielding a young child from books that bring up certain issues until the child is old enough to truly grasp what is being discussed.

Raising a Happy Child said...

I don't believe in banning books, but I do believe in picking age appropriate books for children. I remember the time when a ten year old daughter of my friends was reading The Stand by Steven King. Now, I really like that book, but it would have never occurred to me to offer it to a child who is so young. I really hope that I can have enough influence on book selections of my daughter until her values are established.

Beth said...

I was an elementary school librarian before I had kids. I was on the other side of the desk (so-to-speak!) and had to defend "Light in the Attic" to a parent. It was a frustrating (at times) and enlightening experience.

It basically reaffirmed my belief that I need to be constantly involved in my children's literary life. Luckily I love to read, and I am a fast reader!

Banning books... never, no way, not for me. Reading and discussion... absolutely!

Teryn said...

I love that you said we should be reading books along with our kids. I just remember an experience of my own in Junior High. I had just finished reading Huckleberry Finn and made a comment using a racial slur that I had read in the book. I didn't realize it was negative, I was a pretty sheltered and naive kid, and I got in big trouble. It was a learning experience for me but one that I think could have been dealt with at home had my parents been involved with my book choice. It was a great book, I just needed to be taught a little more about current cultural awareness to go along with it.

Infant Bibliophile said...

Thanks so much for all of the comments. I keep going to reply to each of you, and my thoughts get so lengthy and circular that I delete it. Loving the opinions. Thank you, Teryn for sharing that story. Great example.

Beth, I plan to get Light in the Attic this week to reread it (one of my absolute favorites when younger). Since I haven't read it in so long, I have no idea what could be offensive in it -- if you're still reading this, what was the parent's complaint?

Infant Bibliophile said...

Taralazar, I definitely agree with your sentiment. If I think about it too deeply, though, then I start to think that when it comes to other issues, like say drugs, I certainly want to steer my son rather than let him make an informed decision (although, in the long run, I'd hope he came to the same conclusion himself). I still fall on the non-banning side of the fence, though, don't get me wrong. I just like to overanalyze things! In a way, I suppose those seeking to ban books are giving them the ultimate complement -- how powerful must you believe a book to be to scared of your child reading it?

Infant Bibliophile said...

Louise, a lot of the books on the list are mind boggling. I might highlight a few of them in later posts this week. The reason for banning some are a bit comical. I do think the definition of "banning" is used a bit loosely. If a school librarian decides not to purchase Walter the Farting Dog because she doesn't think it will add much literary merit to the library, I wouldn't have a problem with that, I don't think. I'd have to think about how the library is used by students and how comprehensive the collection is before I made a decision on that, I think.

CanCan (Mom Most Traveled) said...

Why was Waldo banned? I'm intrigued.

Infant Bibliophile said...

From what I understand, an early version of Where's Waldo contained a beach scene, and somewhere on the page, amongst the itty bitty details was a topless sunbather. It was eliminated in future versions. Oh, the horror of seeing a breast. My son's been nursing for almost 2 years; he'd be more shocked to see a toe.

Britt said...

You know, some of the banned books make no sense at all.

I think if parents would just read with and talk to their children more, we could get over this.