Banned Books Week 2016

Happy Banned Books Week everyone! This is a week where we celebrate books that have been challenged or banned and also celebrate the freedom to read and write books that help to express ideas and feelings, even if it is unpopular or uncomfortable.

I have always been a big fan of raising awareness for Banned Books Week, mostly because I am very much against censorship. There are so many documented cases where books have been removed from class curriculums, or removed from school libraries altogether, usually due to complaints from parents or school board members who have never even read the book in question. They are afraid that certain subject matter might scar their children for life and that they must shield them from this at all costs.

To some respects, I understand. There is a difference between something not being age appropriate and a subject that you just don’t want your kid to read about. Many of the books that have been banned or challenged share similar themes, the most common one being anything to do with sexuality. True, I don’t think that books like 50 Shades of Gray belong in a classroom, but you have to be pretty naïve to think that your teenage son or daughter isn’t already thinking or talking about sex. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Part of what bothers me is that in most cases, if a teacher assigns a book that they know might cause issues, they typically have a permission slip to be signed by the parents, and a second book choice if the parents deem the book as inappropriate for their child. Sadly, this isn’t usually enough, even though it seems perfectly fair to me. They aren’t forcing your kid to read the book, but by taking action against it, you are preventing other kids from reading a book that might have just the message they need at that time.

A lot of the books that have been banned, both this year and in years past, have helped students deal with issues like bullying, abuse, questions about their sexuality, drugs, and lots of other subjects that they are exposed to daily, whether in their schools or from what they see online. The best thing about reading these books is that it opens up a dialogue that can allow students to talk through these issues with each other in class, but also to help parents to engage in important conversations with their kids that they may have not otherwise had an opening into. That is such a valuable thing.

I can’t count the number of times a book has opened my mind up to new possibilities, new cultures, and new ideas. That’s what books are for, and shutting off that valuable resource does not protect our kids. Generally, it does the opposite.

The American Library Association has loads of resources to find out more about banned books, including the top ten most banned or challenged books for 2015 and for each year going back to 2001. Shout out to one of my favorite authors, John Green, for getting the top spot last year for his novel, Looking for Alaska. I love this book, and I am always glad when teachers and librarians stand up for it.

Speaking of Mr. Green, here are a couple of videos I recommend where he speaks on the matter: one from this year, and one from 2008 in response to a specific challenge incident.

One other thing the ALA has on their website are a few discussion questions. I’ve decided to pose one each day this week here, along with my answer, and hopefully you guys will also answer. Because discussion is fun!

bbw16prompt1

The Harry Potter books, definitely. They were mostly challenged in the early 2000s, for reasons of “anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, violence.”

Um, what?

First off, how can anyone read those books and think they are anti-family? They are anti-Dursleys, that’s for sure, but that is more anti-abusive-family, not families in general. The Weasleys are one of best families in all of literature as far as I’m concerned, and how are they not a great example of what a family should be: warm, loving, supportive, and accepting of all people. They are the only true family Harry has known, and they love him as if he was their own son/brother. Show me the anti-family message here.

Okay, the next points here are “occult/Satanism/religions view point.” I can’t believe I have to actually say this but – these books are fiction. I don’t know how anyone could think otherwise. The books do not promote any sort of religious practice, and certainly don’t promote anything Satanic. It’s magic spells at a magic school, not some sort of textbook on witchcraft. Do you really think that your child wouldn’t be able to tell the difference? That shows a severe lack of confidence in your child’s critical thinking skills. And are you seriously giving your kid a childhood devoid of anything magical? That’s just sad.

Last point – “violence.” This is the only one I can sort of understand. The last books especially get increasingly more intense. The characters are fighting a war, after all. In spite of this, I don’t think any of the violence is gratuitous or graphic, and it certainly isn’t celebrated. It is made very clear that acts of violence have consequences, which is a very good lesson, especially for children. There is a very obvious line between good and evil.

So to sum up, I believe that these claims are unfounded or over-exaggerated. I also believe that the overarching themes of love and friendship and loyalty far outweigh any complaints that the book banners could have.

Please leave your answer, or a link to your blog post, in comments. Happy Banned Books week!

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