Each September I find myself thinking “Gee wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to commemorate Banned Book Week in America?” Of course that day is nowhere on the horizon and, once again, I found myself incensed to read that, in Dallas, TX, Highland Park parents are trying to get seven books banned in the schools. In a barrage of emails and meetings attending by hundreds, parents asserted that the books they want removed are “Inappropriate” for students because they refer to things like rape, alcoholism, and abuse and expose kids to “the controversies and hardships of adulthood”. To me, this is beyond ridiculous. What student hasn’t heard about abuse or divorce or sex by the time they reach high school? And, if they can’t receive realistic information or have a safe place to discuss these unsettling topics and the issues and emotions they raise, like their home or their school, then how will young people ever be adequately prepared for “the controversies and hardships of adulthood”? Besides, most adults should realize that banning books to “protect” teenagers only makes them more desirable to read. Who out there is old enough to remember secretly reading Judy Blume’s books to learn more about “taboo” subjects our own parents were often unwilling or unable to discuss with us? Oh-wait, hasn’t she been on the banned or challenged list a few times too?
Every year I see ridiculous selections on the Banned Book list. The idea of forbidding Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey always makes me laugh, just like the naughty heroes, George and Harold, made our whole family chuckle for years. But some challenges should be taken more seriously. The one that incensed me the most this year was Jeannette Walls “Glass Castle”, which I believe is one of the best memoirs ever written. Not only does Walls cope with a dysfunctional family situation with a strength and character that often belies her years, she also is able to relay her survival tactics to readers with a humanity and humor that will stay with you long after you close the last page. Why anyone would find this book not fit for students is beyond me. If Jeannette Walls (and Sherman Alexie, another author on the Highland Park list of “must go’s”) could survive childhoods this difficult to become the insightful and compassionate authors they are today then why would anyone want to keep other kids in difficult situations from learning about the various survival strategies these two practiced? Or from seeing that it is possible to escape your past and create your own future if you just believe in yourself? The power of a good book to affect positive change in attitude and actions should never be underestimated!
To learn more about the Dallas controversy, check out these articles:
But, lest I appear judgmental to some, it isn’t only Dallas, or even just Texas that bans books. There’s a huge controversy over what books can be read in Arizona schools and libraries. Even Ithaca, New York, one of the most liberal, and literary, towns in America has had challenges to books in its school library over the years. This week, please take a minute to remind yourself why it’s so important to have a wide variety of books available to encourage, not only positive reading habits in kids and adults, but a love of discussion as well, the ability to talk about books and articulate what they mean to us. If you don’t like a book, you don’t have to read it. But please don’t try to tell me that I can’t read it either!
Now, for a final word from Sherman Alexie himself on why books should not be censored:
What’s your favorite banned book?