Banned Books Week: Do You Believe in Banning Books?


Banned Books 1

The American Library Association (ALA) has released their list of banned books for 2013 and this latest list is both varied and surprising. It is the teen and young adult books that have incited the current hubbub as the “TeachBannedBooks” hashtag sweeps Twitter during Banned Books Week, which runs through Sept. 27 . For example Judy Blume has four perennial classics on the list: Blubber, Forever, Tiger Eyes and Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret.

There are many who argue that no book should be banned, yet there were still more than 5,000 book challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, which is run by the ALA. The ALA contends that for every challenge filed, there are four or five more that are not reported. The reasons for the challenges fall into several categories but the two most popular are for “sexually explicit material” and “offensive language.” There were also 619 books challenged on the basis of “too much violence” and 361 books challenged based on “homosexuality.”

What criteria is the ALA using to include books in the banned list? The Association defines “a book challenge” as a written complaint formally filed with a school or library that requests a book be removed. In addition to the criteria described above, another popular complaint that lands material on the list is that it is “deemed unsuitable to the age group reading it.”

Personally, I adore books and cannot imagine why any of them would be banned. People can simply choose not to buy them, or check a certain book out from the library. I learned more from reading than any other singular activity I engaged in during my formative years. Books were friends as well as teachers, and they opened windows into worlds I would likely never have experienced otherwise. Whether it was Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Daniel Boone series of books or John Jakes’ Kent Family Chronicles, books — including banned books — taught me as much about early America as any history class ever did. I learned about the history of India under British rule in M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions and about life for women in the 1800s from Louisa May Alcott.

As a child and young adult, I was completely uncensored. That is not to say that I was un-monitored, simply that I was uncensored. My parents were on hand to answer any questions I had about the books I was reading and I am sure there were books they put away in places I would not stumble across. However, like any child who reads above their grade level, one thing held true: I would pick up anything that looked interesting, but if a book was too adult for me, or I didn’t understand it, I was very likely to put it down.

Other readers I have spoken with say the same. As children and young adults, they censored themselves. If they were ready to embrace an idea or a concept, they kept reading, and they began asking questions of the adults around them. Even if they did not ask questions, they thought about what they were reading. My personal opinion is that “to stifle reading by banning books is to stifle thinking.” Plus, most kids will zero in on whatever books are on “the banned list” first, especially teens.

What books were at the top of the “banned list” in 2013? 307 books were challenged over the course of the year but the most challenged was Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, which remained at the top of the list from the previous year based on violence, offensive language and many people’s believe that it was unsuitable for the age group it was marketed to. Other books rounding out the top five are Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James,  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

The popular series, Bone, penned by Jeff Smith, ranked number 10 on the list. The author was at Comic-Con in San Diego when the most challenged books were announced. After his initial shock, Smith was “proud to be included with his own writing idols.” Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck and Mark Twain also made the list. Smith believes that books “should represent and reflect the moral values and philosophies of their time.” Plus, he points out that Bone is a comic book.

Many of these challenges are put forth with good intentions. Perhaps people believe that they are protecting children from difficult concepts or idea, such as death, violence and sexual exploitation. I would argue that, rather than banning the reading material, these people would be doing children more good by letting them get the information is the safe space of a book and then having a discussion about it. Banned Books Week occurs yearly at the end of September and celebrates “the freedom to read, and to explore and express ideas.”

Blog by Jenny Hansen

American Library Association

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