September 24th – October 1st is Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week was started in 1982. It is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores, National Coalition Against Censorship; National Council of Teachers of English; and PEN American Center. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The week is meant to highlight intellectual freedom, the ills of censorship and spotlight the works that are being (or have been) banned in parts of the United States.
This week made me think of one of my all-time favorite movies, Field of Dreams, and the part in the movie where Kevin Costner’s wife becomes upset at the fact that the local PTA (particularly another mother) was contemplating banning books they felt were “inappropriate.” Even as a child (I was seven when the movie came out) I always felt that it was such a powerful moment in the movie- not because it was a critical for the plot, rather, because it showed how both mothers loved their children and were trying to do what they felt was best for them.
As a child, I was a voracious reader. While my siblings were playing with their toys or watching television I was off in my room reading. My stepdad one summer offered a deal to my sister and I that each book we read and wrote a one page report about he’d give us $5…that deal quickly was reduced as his wallet was empty thanks to speed reading abilities. When I looked at this list of the top 100 banned/challenged books of the last decade, I realize how if I had come from a different family, different school, different part of the country I may have never been allowed to read some the of the books that helped shape my adolescence, my thoughts, my dreams, my worldview and ultimately—my life. Off of that list, I read 24 of the 100 books while I was under the age of 16. My two favorite books of childhood, The Catcher in the Rye and The Giver have both made this list. Many of the books on this list are ones that personally; I feel all children should read (including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men and To Kill A Mockingbird). All of which, I should point out were requirements of my honors English classes and haven’t (yet) turned any of us into serial killers. Nothing within the pages of these books are any worse than the playground banter of thirteen year old children. Trying to “protect” kids from these works will do nothing but cause them to miss out on fantastic journeys with Jim & Huck floating down the Mississippi, dealing with teenage angst with Holden Caulfield and hope that Lennie finally obtains his dream of tending rabbits.
While I can understand (although I do not agree) with the reasoning behind some banned books, others are absolutely absurd. The Merriam Webster Dictionary was banned in a California school for its definition of oral sex. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was banned in 2010 by the Texas Board of Education because the author has the same name as a Marxist theorist, and no one bothered to check if they were actually the same person. Anne Frank’s diary has been banned on multiple occasions, including a Virginia school in 2010 for being “sexually explicit” in its themes.
When my child is old enough to read I hope that I allow her the same respect that my parents did in allowing me to read whatever I felt called to. Will I ask her questions about her book choices and possibly read them at the same time? Sure. Will I answer the awkward questions about some of content within the books? Absolutely. In the end I feel that whatever the issues people may have with these classic works cannot diminish their value in teaching and molding my child.