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. 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.
Incidentally I had an interesting conversation last year with my daughter who wanted to read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green last year when she was just eleven. Great book – I’ve read it and I found some of it too much for her age, so she can read it in a few years. That’s my decision as her parent. Other parents choose 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.
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 freedoms is continuously challenged.
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.
Read Banned Books. If you question a book, read it – then make the determination for your own child’s reading list. Not mine.
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