Hold the Bonfire: Banned Books Week 2014

mockingbird

As a book lover, I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around book banning, burning, and other words that start with a B. Yes, there are books that I wouldn’t go through the trouble of reading again. Perhaps I’d even rather stick my hand in an oven but someone, somewhere out there does enjoy that book and they have that right! Everyone deserves open book access. While I understand the need for ratings and age moderation, why should there be a ban on the book? If you are over the age of 18 you are allowed to fight for your country, die for your country, but for the love of apple pie don’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, a fictional account documenting the very real realities of racism within said country. 

The American Library Association (bless you!) compiles a list every year detailing the top 10 banned books and the top 100 books banned or challenged over the last decade. So, you might be asking yourself, why are these books banned? There are a variety of reasons ranging from language to racism. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, is objected to due to racist content, which I find rather ironic since (as I mentioned before) it highlights racial injustices and does not condone them. So where are these books banned from? I’m not talking about your corner store Barnes & Nobles pulling titles off their shelves and shipping them back to the warehouse. Banned books are forbidden in public or private institutions, like libraries or schools. While individuals can still buy the books, the literature is no longer as accessible to the public at large, and therefore infringes on their ability to access information that may be considered controversial. In order to better understand the phenomenon, I thought we’d take a look at some of the books being censored and why they are being challenged and hidden away from readers.

Keep Away from the Kiddos:

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

CaptainUnderpants_TalkingToilets

Why is it censored? Offensive language; unsuited for age group; violence

So, yes, Captain Underpants takes potty humor to a new extreme, but there’s something to be said for kids being able to communicate their bodily functions. Perhaps they will not always speak about their excrement at the correct time, but they can learn when they can and cannot talk about potty subjects. My motto? “What happens in the bathroom, stays in the bathroom. Except if your doctor asks. Then tell your doctor.” It’s fun, it’s whimsical, and (yes) it’s a little dirty. But don’t you want to have fun while reading with your kid too? As for the “violent” aspect, I see nothing wrong with teaching a child that the only way you can beat a demonic toilet is with a plunger. Perhaps if I had read this book as a child, I wouldn’t have such an aversion to maintaining my own plumbing.

Too Tough for Teens:

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar (series)

GG

Why is it censored? Drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit

I’m going to let it be known that I read this series when I was a teenager in high school. It wasn’t my cup of tea but it was strangely addicting, like when you know you should put away the chips, you’re full, but you reach for one more. The book does have drugs, the teens curse, and they even have sex. All things that teens, in the real world, do. Would I recommend this series for a 12 year old? Eh, most of it would probably go over their head. How about a 16 year old? Sure, it might even open their eyes to a few things. One of the main characters struggles with bulimia and the novels demonstrate the intense mental and physical roller coaster she rides every day. Honestly, I think that awareness of bulimia (along with anorexia and other eating disorders) and how easy it is to hide, even from some of your closest friends, is valuable. This series does bring something to the table. While these characters are the “It” people in their schools, the narrator shows all of their faults, how not together they are. She shows when they stumble, fail, and crash in ways that are irreparable. Young adults are able to think about issues in complex ways, so give them the chance. The naysayers? Let them pretend teens don’t have sex or throw up their lunch. As for me, I say let them devour this book as they will.  XOXO, Gossip Girl

(Disclaimer: The sign-off is from the book series. It is not mine. Please don’t sue me.)

Frightening for the Family:

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

harry-potter-books

Why is it censored? Occult/Satanism; anti-family; violence

I don’t care what they say. I will love Harry Potter until the day I die and I will read it with my children and maybe even my grandchildren if my copies can withstand the test of time. The very first point I want to poke a stick in is the “anti-family” argument. One simply needs to take a peek inside the Burrow to see that the books are not anti-family. The family structures are not all standard or typical, but that does not make them any less valid. Harry creates his own mish-mashed family with a beloved godfather, honorary werewolf, surrogate mother, and quasi siblings. There is nothing wrong with this. Harry’s own biological family mistreats him, abuses him, but that’s an unfortunate reality for many children. It does not make the work anti-family, it simply shows different ways that families can form.

The books increase in violence as they go, and I think this has to do with the overall content becoming more mature as Harry grows up. The books originally aged with their readers. Now younger readers have access to all 7 books in one go but they may not get the finer points of the later books. While some of the later books may be over their heads, this doesn’t mean that the series should be completely written off. Instead, it should be admired for its evolution!

Let’s flat out address the hairy green monster in the room. The books take place in a magical world and Harry is called a “wizard” because he’s a boy and the girls are called “witches.” They wave wands and they fly on broomsticks and they are the reason I shout “Accio” across the room at my remote control in the hopes that it will one day fly into my hand. It’s fantasy and it opens a world of imagination. There are darker elements of magic that Lord Voldemort uses, but the different facets of magic give depth to the world. What kind of world would it be if there was only good magic? The magic is not the wand-waving within the books, it’s the lessons and relationships within them. Don’t get caught up in superstition. Your child may be the only one in the room that doesn’t know what’s going on when someone says, “I’m a Gryffindor!”

What do you think about the current banned books list?

Should institutions be forced to censor their selection?

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