-- The American Library Association
Learn more about Banned Books Week at the ALA website, which provides background about Banned Books Week, lists of frequently challenged books, details about related events, and more.
"If you don't like a book, you can close it. But you have no right to say I can't open it." - from The Cupid Chronicles by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
Listen to This
Say these statements aloud and note how different they sound:
"YOU shouldn't read that book!"
"NO ONE should read that book!"
"That book is amoral. I am appalled that you read it and that the author wrote it!"
"I haven't read that book. It doesn't sound interesting to me."
"I don't like that book. I read it, but I didn't like it."
"I love that book. Everyone should read that book."
"The writing was poor."
"The plotline was full of holes."
"That book had many grammatical errors and typos."
"The story was appalling due to the language/violence/situations."
One Man's Junk is Another Man's Treasure
I personally don't like things which are crude, so I choose not to read books that are, say, collections of filthy jokes. But that's my opinion. I'm not going to read those books, but at the same time, I'm not going to stop someone else from reading what he or she wants to read.
I also don't read westerns or romances, but that's completely different; I don't tend to read those genres because I'm not all that interested in them. There are other genres which interest me more, much more, like dramatic fiction. At the same time, I don't like fictional melodramas, soap operas, or woe-is-me stories. I like a well-written story with unique characters and intriguing plots. I like horror and fantasy as written by the likes of Christopher Golden and Michael Ende. I like justice being served. (Hence my addiction to the television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Cold Case, and Without a Trace.) I like to think, to dream, to imagine, to cheer, to hope, and thus I enjoy books that inspire those thoughts and moods.
There are so many different books, written for so many different reasons, written for so many different audiences. There are books which are realistic, books that are humorous, books that are mysterious, books that are satirical, books that are dystopic, books that challenge the readers due to the vocabulary used, books that challenge the readers to think and discuss.
I can't stand it when I hear that a library pulled a book off of its shelves due to the jacket summary and/or title, without the librarian and/or the challengers actually having read the book. I firmly believe that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Read it for yourself, THEN decide if it is a good book. Some covers are lovely and the stories are lacking; some stories are lovely and the covers are lacking. Some authors choose the titles of their books, others do not - or they did, but it was changed by the publisher or editor. There are books with racy titles that actually have tame stories and vice-versa. Some jacket summaries describe the plot quite well, while others are very far off the mark. Still others describe the book a little too well and give away crucial plot points.
If you see a book and are concerned that it might not be appropriate for your children, your students, or your library, I again encourage you to read it for yourself, then decide.
Discretion vs. Ageism
I think that rules based on general ages or grade levels can be silly. Examples: "You are 12, and no one is allowed to read this until the age of 13," or "This book is too difficult for a fifth-grader to read." The reader's age isn't the only thing to take into consideration; one must also consider his or her emotional maturity and reading level. There are 8 year olds who can read, retain, and understand The NeverEnding Story and The Tale of Two Cities. There are 18 year olds who can't. There are 48 year olds who can't. There were many times when teachers and school librarians gawked at my literature selections, thinking I was too young to comprehend those books. Those who got to know me realized their assumptions were incorrect.
Should an 8 year old read a book filled with profanity and adult situations? I wouldn't recommend it. Should that same kid see a movie filled with the same? I wouldn't recommend that either. Again, that's my opinion. It's amazing how some parents will not permit their children to read books due to their content, then allow them to turn on the TV or go see a movie that has similar if not older/racier/naughtier content. I often use the American movie rating systems to convey content to parents, teachers and librarians.
There is a difference between discretion and banning. Discretion is supposed to be about selection and is more personal. Banning has more to do with censorship, permission and judgment.
A bookstore might specialize in a certain genre or be for a certain age group. A children's bookstore, for example, probably has mostly picture books and chapter books; I wouldn't expect it to have the newest western paperbacks for adults. Likewise, a shop that specializes in westerns probably wouldn't carry titles for newborns. A librarian at an elementary school might not wish to stock One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Scarlet Letter.
My Favorite Banned Books
The protagonists of my favorite banned/challenged books share the same name: Alice.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll, was banned in China in 1931 because "animals should not use human language" and that it was "disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level." This was quoted at Lenny's Alice in Wonderland Site, as originally from The File Room. View all Bildungsroman posts related to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
The Alice McKinley series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has been challenged every which way due to its realistic portrayal of adolescence. The books follows Alice's life at home and at school, from 3rd grade through (currently) high school. The series is heartwarming, humorous, sweet, and straightforward. Read more about the Alice McKinley series.
I have read many of banned books, including but not limited to the following titles, listed in the order in which they appear on the ALA's banned book lists, not in order of personal preference . . . except for the first one.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Scary Stories collections by Alvin Schwartz
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Forever by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Alice McKinley series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Stupids series by Harry Allard
Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Deenie by Judy Blume
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Fade by Robert Cormier
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Cut by Patricia McCormick
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
I did not read any of these books BECAUSE they were banned. I read them because they sounded interesting to me. In the case of some of the contemporary books, I read them BEFORE they were challenged or banned.
I read banned books, and I'm proud of it.
I even have the bracelet to prove it.
In 2006, I found the I Read Banned Books bracelet created by Carolyn Forsman via the ALA website. I shared the news and the link with my friend the Romanov Princess, who promptly placed an order. The bracelet is available in two sizes, one size for adults, one for children.
Mine is child-sized.
I wear the bracelet during Banned Books Week and other special events. I have also worn it on stage. In the summer of 2008, I thought it suited a character I played - a girl who read Anna Karenina for fun - and got the director's approval to wear it for the duration of the run.
Read Read Read
Read a book because it's interesting to you - because it's a good book - because it sounds delightful - because it sounds intriguing - because you want to imagine, to learn, to belong, to consider, to challenge yourself, to dream, to wish, to cheer, to think, NOT to think, to escape. Read what you want to read. Read BECAUSE you want to read. Share your love of reading with others.
In conclusion, I'll say what I always say:
Open a book. Open your mind.
Many thanks to those who have commented upon and linked to this article, including TubTalk, Lisa Chellman, and Lessons from the Tortoise.
They Tried to Ban This Book Today, or, There's a Sticker on the Cover of This Book - inspired by the challenge of Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson: Too Cool for School?
Banned Books & Tolerance & Commercials & King & King
View all Bildungsroman posts related to banned books