Each year around this time, the American Library Association encourages bibliophiles like me to acknowledge the erroneous judgment of those who continue to seek censorship in our schools and libraries. It calls on us to celebrate the list of banned books, which lengthens every decade, during Banned Books Week, which is going on now (September 22 through September 28, 2019). I applaud this week, as it highlights the horrifying attempts of others to edit my children’s reading list for me. As a parent, it’s my job to share with them the love of literature and life and I relish the opportunity to remind others of just that.
Several years ago, when my son was in high school, I encouraged him to read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, for a book report. A part of the list for several years, it’s an incredible tragic story, which garners empathy from the reader who follows young Pecola’s lot in life. My son was absolutely horrified by the incestuous content of the story, as he should have been. However, I taught him to pay attention to the language, the metaphors, the connections Morrison painted and weaved throughout around Pecola’s story. Morrison set the reader inside Pecola’s head, even though it was told by another character close to her. Being old enough to let the story marinate a bit, he understood this tale as a narration of one person’s suffering in life. Characters of many stories have various amounts of suffering. Some much worse and much more graphic than others. Literature is a form of expressing life. Period. It’s not always pretty. To take it away because you don’t believe your child should read it…fine. That’s your parental right, but don’t take my choice – to allow my children to read it – away from me.
As he shuddered at Pecola’s life, I reminded him that if he can watch such graphic, gory work like True Blood, it’s more important that he put the written word into his day-to-day living – to further develop his reading skills and infuse his own imagination. He understood and wrote a very well-received book report about it.
This also makes me think of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (banned by the way in a few countries in Europe and Asia). My son’s tenth grade English class read it. One afternoon, he came home enraged about the unsanitary living and working conditions raised in the book, and of what people, especially the children endured during that time. We discussed it a lot with his emotions on high. I was impressed and proud. He learned about it from – gasp! – a novel.
A few years ago, I’d had an interesting conversation with my daughter who wanted to read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green when she was just eleven. Great book – I’d read it and I did find some of it to be too much for her age at the time, so I told her she could read it in a few years. Well, come to find out she did one of my numbers – for which I was notorious as a teen – she got a hold of it not long after that talk and read it in secret. (I did the same with Scruples… I wasn’t eleven, though, but a teenager.) I was a bit miffed by her actions of disregarding my decision, but – it gave us a chance to have a discussion about the story.
Now regarding my thoughts on her reading the book at that age: That was MY decision as her parent. Other parents choose may otherwise and that’s the point.
Age and maturity should factor the content and context of what a child reads. The parent can make that decision. How the child receives the work should be a tremendous basis for conversation between parent and child. It’s an awesome way to learn about your child’s interpretation of what they’re reading. This is the stuff English teachers require for book reports. Why not get them thinking about what they read for the sake of thinking about what they read?
If a child wants to read a book, they will find a way to read it. It’s even easier now with ebooks. The other point of this is – have a discussion with your child about the books. Don’t let the library or government (!) do your bidding for you. Know what books are out there.
Find out why they are “banned” and if you can, read them yourselves and become a part of the conversation, not just a spectator.
As a parent and as a reader, I shudder to think of the lines crossed by those who believe
they are protecting the welfare of their own children when they step into my space of determining what’s allowed by my own child to read. I am still galled by the fact that this one element of our freedom is continuously challenged.
So, take a look at the ALA’s most recent comprehensive banned book list.
Then, scroll through the ALA’s banned book list of 2000-2009;
Followed by the ALA’s list of banned and challenged classics.
Note how several became hit made-for-TV movies; some were big screen hits … for children! I commend the directors of films such as The Face of the Milk Carton, A Wrinkle in Time, Bridge to Terabithia, because I’m sure curiosity drove kids to the libraries or bookstores in order to get the authentic story first presented by the author.
Below are a few of mine – from The Awakening by Kate Chopin to Beloved by Toni Morrison:
Read Banned Books. If you question a book, read it – then make the determination for your own child’s reading list. Not mine.
This post is updated from 2015.
Are there any banned books you’ve read? Did you know they were banned? Which ones? What’s your take on the growing list of “banned” and challenged books? Please share in the comments.
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