Banned Books Week 2020

Banned Books Week (September 27 – October 3) is something I anticipate every year. I’ll never forget my middle school self being assigned a persuasive speech. I’d recently been whipped up into a frenzy by the scenes of book burning in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and the knowledge that local pastors and churchgoers were trying to prevent the Harry Potter movies from coming to town. Doing research, I found out they’d tried to get the books off library shelves, too. 

All of this, coupled with my own experiences — such as being told my a girl on the bus that I was a bad Christian because I was openly reading the books on the school bus — made me a lifetime proponent for banned books week. Who was she to tell me how to live my religion or what books my childhood voracious reader soul could consume. Some would argue that she was wrong, and the Harry Potter series meant I was an advanced Christian student, enjoying a long-form allegory of my Christian journey of good against evil, much like the Narnia books provide. But, that’s potentially a whole discussion for another day.

I’ve had an interesting journey cultivating my passionate fight against censorship. I studied journalism in college, further cementing my passion for freedom of speech. At my core, even if I don’t agree with what you want to say, I have a strong desire to defend your right to say it, barring hate speech. 

I’m even more passionate about the censorship of books. As a writer and a book lover, being the mother of a toddler is hard. The first time a teacher had me write in a book I was horrified. The first time my toddler tore a page out of one of her books, I almost cried. I’ve adjusted, but geez, does anyone have any tips for that? Why are toddlers so destructive? 

But, full-grown adults burning books, what is that? Unlike my two-year-old, they know better. To book lovers like me, books are sacred. Growing up smack in the Bible belt, obviously I grew up religious. So, I realize there are some books literally considered sacred, and maybe some of that reverence transferred onto the others. But I’m pretty sure it’s just that stories are so important to me. But, we shouldn’t be destroying people’s hard work and ideas just because we don’t agree with them.

My mother, who swore she barely graduated from high school, was smarter than she believed. She didn’t believe in herself, but she believed in me, her only child with her whole heart. She swore the reason I was the first person in my family to go to college was because she read to me every day as a baby and made me promise to read to my little girl, too. I do as much as our busy lives allow. Momma instilled a love of reading in me that I’ll carry with me forever, and I hope to do the same with my little one. And, I certainly will instill the value that we don’t ban books.

Look, just like anyone else, I don’t want my daughter exposed to anything that might harm her. I’m not a monster. I’m not a horrible mother, whatever my anxiety might tell me on a bad day. But, it’s my partner’s and my responsibility to make these decisions, not anyone else. It’s not okay to get books banned from libraries and schools because you don’t want your kid to read them. The solution is simple. Just don’t let your kid read them. Create a relationship with your child, with their school, with your librarian to make sure you can protect your own family. But, get that out of my life. My daughter is my responsibility, and your children are yours. 

We all have different values. If nothing else, the partisanship of the past few years — 2020 especially — has taught us that. Mine are probably at least a little different from yours. And, if we all went around banning the books we didn’t like, there wouldn’t be any books left. If we think too hard about it, we can all come up with reasons even beloved books are a bit problematic. Have you read Dr. Seuss lately? I mean, I bought my daughter a bunch of Dr. Seuss books because of nostalgia. But, there are so many nonsense words and sometimes questionable values (there’s more violence than you remember — I promise). Am I running to ban them? No. But, someone has. Hop on Pop is one of the most banned books, which my husband, if he was the sort, kind of gets. 

Do we want to live in a world without Hop on Pop, The Lorax, or Harry Potter because someone else says we should? I sure don’t. So, head to your bookshelf, your favorite bookstore, or your library (#supportlibraries) to pick up your favorite Banned or Challenged Book to help keep the spirit of the movement going. Sure, Banned Books Week might almost be done, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop reading whatever book you want, no matter what other people think about it. 

“Free Downloads”, American Library Association, January 3, 2013.

For more information about Banned Books Week or to join the fight in a more substantial way, visit the American Library Association website.