You Should Not Even Try
When I was pretty young, a freshman in high school, I had to find something to write a speech on for a class. Around this time, I also learned about Banned Books Week which ends October 2. I was a huge, nerdy, Harry Potter fan way before it was cool. I hid my books and my Harry Potter swag deep in my backpack. One might ask why I had the swag if I was going to hide it. Teen brains are weird.
But, when I learned people were trying to ban Harry Potter, in the South especially, I got fired up. Churches were rioting, trying to keep the movies from coming to town. They burned books. Kids told me I must not be a good Christian when I took the books out to read on the bus. I was pretty devout.
Anyway, the point is, long before I knew I’d be a journalist or an author, books opened up new worlds for me that helped me step out of the confines of my small town in the rural South. They helped me escape from a troubled childhood. They helped me in many ways. Is it possible I read things I shouldn’t have as a child? Absolutely. But I 100 percent think that’s my mom’s fault, not the librarian or anyone else’s fault. Okay, maybe a little bit mine too.
Even now, as a parent, I don’t blame anyone else for putting inappropriate things out there. Except, maybe for the Peppa Pig porn a few years back on YouTube kids. Like WTF guys? But I digress.
Books are an important part of learning. Fiction has its place in that. It helps us understand humanity. We can learn about history, the arts, and the state of human nature. And anyone who argues otherwise hasn’t gotten it yet.
I don’t understand erotica, but I will still fight for your right to write it and keep it in the libraries, bookstores, and wherever else you sell it – as long as it’s not like a daycare or school or something. But in the end, it’s my responsibility as a parent to research what I let my children read.
Now, as a liberal, progressive, caring individual, this is where we should discuss low-income parents, who are more concerned about putting food on the table than what their kids might be reading. Educational levels could be a barrier in these settings as well. To be fair, I grew up in a low-income, low-education home, so my parents didn’t have the time and resources to read every single book I read. They were busy. They had jobs. So, I can give them a pass. They also didn’t have the Internet and smartphones. Today, a quick chat with the librarian or a Google search can usually reveal if a book is appropriate for your child. So, there are plenty of resources to help you protect your children if that’s the issue.
But most banned and challenged books aren’t limited because they’re actually harmful to children. They’re banned because, for example, they include the stories of LGBTQIAplus or people of color in ways that make their oppressors feel bad or uncomfortable.
Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020
- George by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism and because it was thought to promote antipolice views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and it included rape and profanity.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the author.
- Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote antipolice views.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes and their negative effect on students.
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and because it was thought to promote an antipolice message.
Call to Action
So, when you hear of a book being challenged or banned, think about that. Most of the time, there’s a message inside that has made someone uncomfortable. Sure, there are things in the world that make people uncomfortable because they’re just bad. But there are also things that make people uncomfortable because they know they need to make a change and they’re not ready or willing to do so. The messages in many of these books can help make the world a better place by bringing important issues to light, if people are just allowed access to them.
I think about that this year, especially, as the theme of Banned Book Week is Censorship Divides Us, and Books Unite Us. Despite those who ridiculed me for my love of Harry Potter, I trekked to my local big box bookstore for the opening night release of books four through seven, and I met so many amazing people. Sure, the world probably wasn’t going to suffer for me not getting to read Harry Potter. But anytime censorship wins, it’s a bad day.
Books can unite us, if we let them. But just like everything else, if we let it, the desire to control the message can destroy us. Let’s let people show us their amazing worlds, and share those with our children. Freedom of expression is one of the most amazing human rights. So, go out and celebrate your freedom by reading one of these (or another) great banned or challenged book to show your support. And consider reaching out to an author you love who has experienced having their book challenged or banned.
Have any of your favorite books or authors been banned or challenged?
If you’re not sure, you can check out bannedbooksweek.org for more information to find out.
See my article for last year’s Banned Books Week.
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