I’m blogging early this week because I have some busy days ahead, but I didn’t want Banned Book Week to go by without mentioning it.
You would think that as a Christian writer, I’d be all for banning books—particularly those that are “bad” for us and our children.
Well, you’d be wrong.
I’m against reading many of the books that are popular in our culture, but I can’t support forbidding them.
Book banning is usually the result of a person or group of people who decide what they think is best for everyone and who exert great energy to turn their personal views into an edict. The problem is, there are as many different viewpoints as there are people, and theoretically, if everyone were allowed to strike those books they thought “bad” because they contain profanity, opposing politics, violence, racism, religious references, or (name your offense here), there would be little quality literature left on the shelves. For example, one of my favorite books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl was once placed in a Colorado school’s locked reference collection because a librarian thought the book embraced a “poor philosophy of life.”
Think that’s ridiculous? Well, in 2010, a school district in Riverside California even banned Webster’s Dictionary because it contained sexual content. Now, truth be told, I’m still smarting because the Webster gurus recently made “nother” a word (as in, that’s a whole nother issue), but I’m not going to swear off dictionaries because of it.
I do, however, highly endorse employing a bit of discernment when choosing books, particularly with regard to stocking school libraries. Middle schoolers do not need access to sexually explicit materials, and high schoolers do not need access to bomb-making instruction manuals, and NO SCHOOL needs to stock Fifty Shades of Grey. There are so many good books in the world, librarians should have no trouble accumulating age-appropriate literature for their shelves.
I also firmly believe in knowing what my children are reading and being available to discuss their books with them. I learned the hard way. When my oldest was a teenager, I eagerly fed his desire for Goosebumps books because I was just thrilled that he wanted to read. I never read any of them. A few years later, he saw me sorting through books to keep for his younger brother and urged me to throw them out. He said they were awful—kids died in nearly every book, and they were depressing.
In shock, I asked why he’d read them all then. He shrugged and said, “They were addicting.”
So now, I attempt to read every book my youngest reads—a feat that is becoming more difficult now that he’s in high school, but it has paid off. Last year, his freshman English class was assigned Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. It is a terrific story told from the viewpoint of a mentally feeble young man, but it contains three of what I believe are inappropriate scenes for a teenage boy. I was so glad I read them first. I marked the pages and told my son of my concerns but said he could read them if he really wanted to. He chose not to, so I filled in with a PG-rated description of the events and he was still able to pass all related quizzes and even write a good essay. Frankly, I would have been greatly disappointed if he’d wanted to read it, so I was quite proud at his decision. And I am greatly disappointed in his teacher for not finding something better suited out of all the good literature available. However, I think that if I’d outright forbidden him to read it, he would only have been more inclined to see what all the fuss was about.
The following books have been banned (or are still banned) in some schools:
To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank
Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
If the irony of that last one doesn’t make your heart hurt, you need to add it to your reading list.
The banned book list is much longer, but these are books I’ve read, loved, learned from. They entertain, educate, and often give insight into other people’s trials and tragedies, and their triumphs. Many I would not recommend to my youngest—yet, but others we’ve already shared. I can still remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird when I was a teenager. I couldn’t fathom racism because I lived in a nearly all white community in Rhode Island, but I was able to recognize it for what it was when I joined the military and saw how some people treated others, and I believe it made me a bit more empathetic than I might have been. How could someone ban that book? I’ll never understand.
Why am I so adamant about banning book banning? Well, just this week I learned that a California school is tossing out all Christian themed books and books by Christian authors. The school superintendent who mandated the removal said the school would “not allow sectarian materials on our state-authorized lending shelves.”
Included in that list of literature that is now denied to their students would be Holocaust survivor, Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, and technically, I guess, Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series as well. How about the writings of Rev Martin Luther King Jr? Was he not a Christian? What a dangerous, slippery slope we’re on if this is allowed to continue.
The upside of this recent insanity, for me anyway, is that although my book in progress would be banned at this school without even being read, it would put me on a list with C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, and Corrie Ten Boom—I cannot imagine a greater honor!
(Note for busy parents: If you cannot keep up with your child’s reading, there are apps and websites that will check books for appropriateness and even tell you about specific words or scenes to expect and their context. I recommend Plugged In, at http://www.pluggedin.com)