It's Banned Book Week - a week to celebrate the freedom of reading choice and keep people's attention on the everyday censorship that still happens all too frequently. This week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and a host of other organizations for publishers, authors, and educators.
Of the Top Banned Books of 2009, I know I've read 7 of the 10...this week, I will try to round out the list! How many have you read? I'm really curious to see the list for 2010 - will sorcery and vampire lust continue to be one of the bigger complaints, or will realistic, "issue" laden fiction like Speak (see below) be considered more objectionable?
What really surprised me was this Map of book censorship from the Banned Book Weeks website. Of course, I read on the news about schools, libraries, parents, professors, and so on, objecting to certain pieces of literature, and I know, in some part of my brain, that it happens. As ALA says, even more complaints happen than are reported nationally, and even taking this into account, looking at a visual representation of all the places - red states, blue states, everywhere - really drives it home. Censorship happens. But that sounds big, and ominous, and political - Censorship, capital C. What if I'm a concerned parent and I really don't want my middle-schooler exposed to the dog-eared chapters of Judy Blume's Forever? I'd rather tell her about first relationships myself...further on down the road. How do I extend my view of parenting into her school and extracurricular life? Where is the line between protecting your child in your home, and deciding what is right and safe for all children, everywhere? Once you determine that line, how do you enforce it?
I know it's been all across blogland, but in case you want to read up on the most recent cases of pulling "questionable" literature, here are some objections against teen books.
A Missouri State University professor wrote an article for the Missouri paper News-Leader calling Laurie Halse Anderson's novel Speak (and other current teen books) "soft pornography," warning parents to be wary of the kind of literature their kids are exposed to in school. Certainly, Speak and other books dealing with rape, violence, bullying, and other scary but very real issues, can be graphic and frightening - but how else do we as a society address their existence? I don't see that such books would incur instances of violence, anymore than I see that J.K. Rowling is endorsing pagan witchcraft and sorcery (not that paganism is even a bad thing in the first place).
Here is Laurie Halse Anderson's response to the article and the blogging hubbub it incited.
In a nearby neighborhood, Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was banned in a Missouri school, due to crude language and themes of violence, alcoholism, and racism. I do understand the point about swearing and crassness: kids may already be familiar with that way of talking, but we don't have to encourage it. However, I don't see how taking a book off the shelves will change anything for the better.
I'm not sure there's any one particular way to change things for the better. I wish there was a simple way to eradicate racism, violence, sexism, rape, hate crimes, bullying, et cetera, but until there's a Magic Wand of Love and Sparkly Ponies, I don't think ignoring their existence and shielding our children from discussion of them will make them disappear.
Lauren Myracle, the author of the TTYL series which are at the top of ALA's top banned books list, wrote an article, "Banned Books Breakthrough: I Know You Are, But What Am I?" for Shelf Awareness about what it means to have faith, be a Christian, even, while fighting censorship and her own books being censored.