We’re not all doom, gloom, and statistics around here. Time for some Banned Book Week humor!
I have a lot of feelings about banning books and “sanitizing” them for children or telling children they can’t read certain books (or at least can’t read them yet). I don’t think I could have put better words to my feelings, though, than Melissa Scholes Young did for her piece in the Washington Post.
I grew up in a country with heavy censorship rules. Lots of books, magazines, TV shows, and movies never made it into the country at all. Those that did were subject to “editing” – a movie with a romantic scene of, say, two people kissing would look like this: two people leaning closer together, then suddenly leaning apart. The censors didn’t even do a pretty job of it – they simply removed the kiss. Talk shows with an unfavorable guest – that person’s segment would be edited out, regardless of references elsewhere in the show to that guest. Sesame Street would be edited – no scenes with pigs in them, as they are vile, unclean animals. Mumford the Magician, instead of saying “A la peanut butter sandwiches!” would mouth words silently for a second, then you’d hear “…peanut butter sandwiches!” It didn’t matter than the “a la” part was actually French. It sounded just like “Allah”, and you just don’t take God’s name in vain. Or in jest. Or anything else, really. Archie comic books would show up with black marker all over the girls’ swimsuits, so you didn’t see too much skin. They never blacked out the boys’ shorts or chests, just the girls’. A popular children’s magazine at the time put out an issue with a feature on a kid from Israel. I think it was about the growing popularity of soccer around the world, or something as intense as that. But because the kid was Israeli, and Israel was, shall we say, not in political favor, the censors ripped out that section of Every. Single. Copy. of that magazine before putting it on the magazine racks in the grocery store.
I grew up in an area of mostly Americans, some Brits, and a small percentage of folks from other countries. Most everyone ranted at some time or other about how oppressive the censorship was, how much better it was in other countries, especially in the US with their Freedom of Speech and all that.
Then I move back to the US and I hear how determined one group or another is to ban one book or another, to forbid the very mention of certain topics, But Who Will Think Of The Childern! Someone Must Protect The Childern! (misspelling intended for dramatic wailing and rending of garments). Are you freaking kidding me? We’re supposed to be the Land of the Free and the Brave! Freedom of Speech! IT’S THE FIRST FREAKING AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION, BECAUSE IT’S THAT DAMNED IMPORTANT.
Children are way smarter than most grownups give them credit for. More flexible in their thinking, more resilient than most grownups think too. I’ve been working with children my entire adult life, and a fair share of my life before I turned 21, for that matter. Children have an amazing capacity for understanding and adapting, when given honest opportunities. Children also have a pretty decent ability to figure some things out for themselves, given sufficient input. Lying to them, removing possibilities from them, deliberately misleading them, this does no one any good. What happens when those children find out you’ve been bullshitting them this entire time? They cease to believe anything further you have to say. Give them age-/developmentally-appropriate information and vocabulary, sure. Protect them from everything in the world that is or might be scary? If you remove all conflict, all risk, all potential danger, how in the world do you expect them to develop any skills to manage such moments on their own, down the road? Instead, help them navigate those moments. Help your children see those conflicts and risks and dangers for what they are – opportunities to observe, evaluate, reason, plan, and move forward. As you are doing so, use age-/developmentally-appropriate language and concepts and examples. Add to that information and vocabulary as they grow up and their cognitive skills develop. Give them credit for being the thinking, reasoning, functional human beings they are becoming.
While you’re thinking about that, here are some children’s books that have been challenged and banned over the years. Which of these have you read? How thoroughly were you damaged by them? Do you read any of these with your own children? How comfortable are you given these as presents to someone else’s children?
Me? I’d read everything here except the Harry Potter books by the age of 12. And yet, somehow, by all accounts, I’ve turned out to be a reasonably well-adjusted, somewhat appropriately-social, contributing member of society.
From the American Library Association’s website:
The American Library Association condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information. Every year, the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles a list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The lists are based on information from media stories and voluntary challenge reports sent to OIF from communities across the United States.
Explore the annual Top Ten Most Challenged Books lists:
The Top Ten lists are only a snapshot of book challenges. Surveys indicate that 82-97% of book challenges – documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries – remain unreported and receive no media.
Sometimes OIF receives information as the challenge is happening; other times OIF receives an online report years later. This affects the total number of challenges reported in any given year. Thus the Top Ten Most Challenged Books list should not be viewed as an exhaustive report.
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 354 challenges to library, school and university materials in 2017. Of the 416 books challenged or banned in 2017, the Top 10 Most Challenged Books are:
Out of 323 challenges recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom
Out of 275 challenges recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom
Out of 311 challenges recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom
Out of 307 challenges recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom
Book banning is a serious form of censorship. A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice. Books are banned or challenged for moral, political, religious, or commercial reasons. Once the book is banned, readers have either limited or no access to it. Every year, during the last week of September, a major event is held that promotes the freedom to read. Banned Books Week brings together librarians, educators, publishers, and readers who unite to draw attention to the harms of censorship.
Some folks have very definite ideas of what is and isn’t okay for other people to read and think. And when it comes to children and children’s literature? Forget about it. Attempts have been made to ban “Huckleberry Finn” in schools, libraries, and bookstores since the first month after it was published in 1885, and has been challenged more or less continuously ever since. Want to know why?
Each book that is banned or censored is done so for the content within the pages. There are a few common reasons that books have been banned or censored in schools, libraries, and book stores. These include:
Racial Issues: About and/or encouraging racism towards one or more group of people.
Encouragement of “Damaging” Lifestyles: Content of book encourages lifestyle choices that are not of the norm or could be considered dangerous or damaging. This could include drug use, co-habitation without marriage, or homosexuality.
Blasphemous Dialog: The author of the book uses words such as “God” or “Jesus” as profanity. This could also include any use of profanity or swear words within the text that any reader might find offensive.
Sexual Situations or Dialog: Many books with content that include sexual situations or dialog are banned or censored.
Violence or Negativity: Books with content that include violence are often banned or censored. Some books have also been deemed too negative or depressing and have been banned or censored as well.
Presence of Witchcraft: Books that include magic or witchcraft themes. A common example of these types of books are J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.
Religious Affiliations (unpopular religions): Books have been banned or censored due to an unpopular religious views or opinions in the content of the book. This is most commonly related to satanic or witchcraft themes found in the book. Although, many books have also been banned or censored for any religious views in general that might not coincide with the public view.
Political Bias: Most Commonly occurs when books support or examine extreme political parties/philosophies such as: fascism, communism, anarchism, etc.
Age Inappropriate: These books have been banned or censored due to their content and the age level at which they are aimed. In some cases children’s books are viewed to have “inappropriate” themes for the age level at which they are written for.
Many books have been banned or censored in one or more of these categories due to a misjudgment or misunderstanding about the books contents and message. Although a book may have been banned or labeled a certain way, it is important that the reader makes his/her own judgements on the book. Many books that have been banned or censored later were dropped from banned books lists and were no longer considered controversial. For this reason, banned books week occurs yearly to give readers a chance to revisit past or recently banned books to encourage a fresh look into the controversies the books faced.
Source: “Common Reasons for Banning Books,” Fort Lewis College, John F. Reed Library. Banned Books, Censorship & Free Speech. November 15, 2013. Web. March 19, 2014.
Find out how a book challenge/ban works here.