September 21-27, 2014 is National Banned Books week sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA). This annual event celebrates the freedom to read. I find it appalling that in 2014 in the United States of America, with a constitutional right to the freedom of the press, that we still have to fight against censorship in literature.
Last week the ALA put out their list of the most challenged books of 2013. While I have to say that some of the titles don’t surprise me, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Here is the list and the reasons given:
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
- The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
- A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
- Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence
I think it’s ridiculous to try to ban a book simply because it contains material you find objectionable. If you are uncomfortable with the contents, then I suggest you read something else. But to attempt to prevent others from reading it is more than a little bizarre and I’m not sure I entirely understand it.
Parents have both the right and the responsibility to monitor what their children are reading. That’s called parenting. And no one said it was easy. If you are not comfortable discussing topics with your child such as religious viewpoints that differ from your own, you’re both in a world of trouble when your child reaches adulthood. The time to discuss your values with your child and how to navigate a world where values may differ, is when they are young enough that you still have influence over them. The same is true when it comes to racism, political views, and sexuality.
It surprises me that parents who have no difficulty discussing proper bathroom habits with their kids, get all kinds of uncomfortable when it comes to discussing sex. Human sexuality is as natural as eating, breathing, and pooping. The minute we make it taboo, the minute it becomes something children absolutely want to know more about, and naturally, want to hide from their parents.
The same holds true when it comes to drugs, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, violence, and offensive language. All of these are part of the world in which we live. Yes, there are age-appropriate ways to bring up these topics, but last time I checked, the board book version of Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t available in the children’s section of the library. The Bone series, however IS. And it shocks me that this is the #10 most challenged book of 2013.
I personally credit Jeff Smith with my 11-year-old twins’ current love of reading. Up until the beginning of fourth grade when they discovered the Bone series, I had to practically duct tape them to chairs to get them to read their required 30 minutes a day. But when they brought home their first graphic novel by Jeff Smith, suddenly, I was telling them they needed to stop reading and do something else. Yes, those exact words shockingly came out of my mouth.
Parents need to know what their children are reading. That is our jobs as parents. And we need to be prepared to have tough conversations with our kids about the things they read. If some parents believe the best way to raise their children is to censor everything their children read and pretend no other points of views exist, that is their right to do so. But to try to prevent others from also reading it? That’s nothing more than laziness, because they don’t want to do the hard work that needs to be done. And it’s just plain wrong. This is one of those issues that I do believe is as black and white as, well, a page in my favorite book.