Once Upon a Story
September 22, 2014

Ah, here it is, Banned Book Week. The week where teachers, librarians, booksellers, avid readers and book industry professionals band together to defend and promote books that others have attempted to remove from the hands of children.

It’s a passionate crew, y’all.

According to the above website 307 reported challenges were made to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2013. And that’s only a fraction of the books that were challenged in schools and libraries across the country last year.

There are other passionate people out there, y’all. On both sides.

And you know what?

I get it.

I’m a parent. This year, I’m a parent with a kindergartener who peruses the library on her own and is making her own book selections at school. I’m not there to influence her decisions, even if I wanted to. I’m not there to protect her 5yo eyes from viewing images she may have questions about. And in the coming years, I won’t be there to prevent her from picking up a book, reading the inside flap, and discovering that her world, its problems, its people, are much bigger than they may seem now.

As a parent, that’s tough. We want to keep our children innocent. We don’t want them exposed to violence, we’re not always prepared with quick answers to tricky questions, we’re afraid of the peer pressure they might experience.

What do I do if my 10yo wants to read The Hunger Games? Isn’t that violent?

Did you know The Diary of Anne Frank mentions sex(ual urges)? How can that be considered appropriate for an 8th grader

And so, sometimes, we, as parents, react with a knee-jerk response.

We remove the threat.

Or at least we attempt to.

Singularly, or alone, we raise voices, we pound fists, we storm the compound.

We demand that the book be removed.

Problem solved.

Child protected.

I get it.

 

Except it’s wrong.

Children need tough books. They need books that deal with scary issues. They need books about war, and hurt, and fear. They need a book about families that look like their own, especially if their own family looks different than many others. They need books. They need books with imperfect protagonists, even broken protagonists.  They need books with unhappy endings.  They need books that deal with their physical and emotional awakenings and the turbulence of adolescence.

Because somewhere, there’s a child dealing with scary issues. There’s a child impacted by war, eaten by hurt, living with fear. There’s a child with a family that doesn’t look like any other family in town, who struggles with loving his/her own parents,  and being ridiculed for that love. And as much as I, as a parent and human being wish it weren’t so, there are many, many broken children whose lives feel like a series of unhappy endings. And we’ve ALL experience middle school and know how horribly confusing that time can be.

But that’s not my kid.

And if that’s true, thank goodness for that. But if it’s not your child, I can say with absolute certainty that someone your child is in contact with on a regular basis is hurting or confused child.

Hurting kids need books written for them.

Those that are not hurting need books that show them a world beyond their own, to teach them compassion, forgiveness, patience, tolerance.

We all need those banned books.  We all need access to those banned books.

I recently saw Meg Medina speak on her new book Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. I was disappointed to hear that a school in my home state of Virginia cancelled her author visit because the title was deemed in appropriate. Nevermind that the book, written for a young adult (12-17yo) audience, deals with a topic familiar to many teens, has received many awards, and is widely praised for both its writing and its relevance.

The word “ass” is in the title, and that’s too strong of a word for adolescent ears.

Because, as we know, that’s the worst language a teen hears on a typical school day. Right?

Medina admits that in the final stages of publication, she expressed concern to her editor for this very reason.  Parents would reject it based solely on the cover. Librarians would keep it from prominent display.

The editor’s response (I’m paraphrasing):

Who did you write this book for? The parents/teachers/librarians? Or the teen being threatened and bullied?

They kept the title.

 

As a parent, I get it. Would I allow my child at 10 years old  to read The Hunger Games? Nope. At least not willingly. It is violent. (Also, not written for a 10yo audience, but that’s another rant). That’s my personal decision as a parent, and a conversation I can have with my child.

Would I allow my 5yo to read And Tango Makes Three? Yep. Would every parent? Nope.

And that’s okay, too. We get to make those choices as parents.

Let’s just leave it on the shelve for the child who needs it, okay?

He might very well sit next to your child in class.

 

 

One response to “Banned Books: I “Get It” (But Won’t Support It)”

  1. Betsy says:

    Thanks for this great reflection. It’s absolutely true – we can (and should!) take responsibility for our own kids and what we encourage and permit them to read, without policing the world. For the sake of the hurting or minority or whatever kid who needs that “hard” book to relate to. And I hope my white privileged kid with two loving parents will also read those “hard” books, for their literary value but particularly to expose her to the world and make her a more compassionate and understanding human being. For that reason alone, I’ll be putting those books in her hands and reading them with her and taking about them, as I think she’s old enough to handle them. if books aren’t for broadening out life experience and making us better humans, what are they really for?

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