Posted in Observations

Read On: Banned Books Week 2014

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It’s Banned Books Week, once again. This week-long, annual event has a goal of celebrating the freedom to read. According to the American Library Association, more than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. Here are the top five challenged titles from 2013:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey. Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Drugs/alcohol, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James. Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

The point here is not to necessarily defend the merits of these works but to argue that the freedom to read what we wish is of the utmost importance. Sure, Fifty Shades of Gray may seem to be something positive that was challenged and banned. Who wants their child reading about sex and fetishes? I’d personally question that notion with the fact that most people have no issue with their children reading Shakespeare.

I love the Bard and his wordplay, much of which involved strategic bawdy humor to entice the common man and rich folk alike (swords and sheaths). Take Romeo & Juliet, a classic love story. Well, Juliet is 13 and about to ignite from sexual tension. Romeo is completely in love with his cousin, then decides he likes Juliet better after seeing her once. They conspire to get married after meeting (once), then have sex. In a three day period, they meet, get married, and die. There is murder, running away, poison, pretending to be dead, disobeying parents, sex, suicide, and a variety of death in that play. A little spanking doesn’t seem nearly as wild.

Why are books banned or challenged?

Most of the time, books, comics, or graphic novels are challenged because adults deem their content unsuitable for the minds of our youth. Whether there is a religious disagreement (a notable example being Rowling’s Harry Potter series) or an issue with sex and language (Fifty Shades of Gray), the challenges come from a spirit of controlling what our kids consume. This is understandable, in some senses; however, this is the responsibility of the individual parent and not one of an entire community.

Classics are frequently challenged alongside more modern works, including 1984, The Great Gatsby, and To Kill A Mockingbird. A wide variety of books that most of us would never consider harmful have been challenged as well, including Winnie the Pooh and various works by Dr. Seuss (Hop On Pop for encouraging violence towards a parent, The Lorax for vilifying the lumber industry). As you can see, some challenges make more sense than others.

What can you do?

I think responsibility is key, here. As a kid, I always sought out the banned books in order to find out what they were all about. This is how I initially read one of my favorite books, 1984, while I was in middle school. As a parent, if you’re concerned about what your kids read, my advice is to read with them or talk about the issues. What better way to explore certain aspects of society and issues that your kids deal with?

Like it or not, your kids deal with these issues: sex, drugs, alcohol, suicide, mental illness, betrayal, bullying, friendships, identity, relationships, trust, and survival. All these problems are the subjects of books and young adult material, most of which can prove to be a helpful guide. If you’re concerned about your kid not interpreting these messages in a positive way, read the book with them. Discuss, don’t preach.

Studies show that kids who read the Harry Potter series end up being more empathetic and tolerant. Millennials are reading more than ever. Young adult works have had a resurgence of popularity, and frequently deal in the currency of strong characters that can be great role models. There are a lot of potential lessons to be learned.

Check out a book that has been challenged. Keep an open mind. Talk. Discuss. Listen. Remember that life is something we only get a stab at once, unless we read.
What are your favorite banned books? Do you agree with challenges on works of literature? Comment below or send a tweet to @hewts to let me know what you think.


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