Why Read Banned Books?
by Tif Sweeney
Editor’s Note: We were unable to post this article during Banned Books Week (BBW). Our tardiness aside, this article from Tif Sweeney contains wonderful information about BBW as well as links to more banned book information. At Walrus, we support the recognition of banned books and encourage all readers to determine for themselves the value of a publication.
September 30-October 6 marks Banned Books Week (BBW), taking the time to honor the books that have been challenged or banned over the years. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the celebration of reading freedom, and in helping to celebrate the event, the American Library Association (ALA) has put together a special timeline highlighting a controversial book for each year. Titles range from classics such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (“deviant”) in 1983 to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (“racially offensive”) in 1996 to a more recent selection of The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (“sexual content”) in 2011. No matter the title or the reason for the controversy, BBW is here to remind readers young and old that we all have the freedom to read.
A special project by journalism students began tracking the books challenged here in the state of Missouri. The Missourian has opened access to all for BBW 2012 and you can find the full results on their website, including detailed history of the project as well as books that have been on the chopping block. In fact, you can even find an interactive graphic detailing the books that have been challenged, where they have been challenged, and the reasons and results of the controversy.
As an avid reader, I can go on and on about the controversy around the books; instead, I have decided to select a handful of books that have previously been challenged around the country and share with you why I think you should read them.
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: The most challenged book/series from 2000-2009, the title wizard has seen concerns about witchcraft, poor role models, disrespectful characters, and more. However, the series also brings out a multitude of positives from growing up “different” to normalizing the loss of a loved one to even creating dinner discussions centered around friendships, bullying, and religion.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: A book frequently challenged due to the sexual content and teen pregnancy. The issues addressed in this memoir are ones that many teens face in one form or another, and can create a medium to bring the topics to the forefront instead of sweeping them under the rug.
- Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank: Frank’s diary is one that is frequently challenged, mainly due to the “sexual material and homosexual themes.” However, it is also a story that can resonate so much for a time in our history that should never be forgotten. To see this world through the eyes of someone their own age is more powerful than a textbook ever could be.
- The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey: A child’s graphic novel that has been questioned for its foul language and violence. Let’s be honest: the language used in this book is language that was already being used by the targeted audience. Have you ever met a child that has not been fascinated with “bathroom talk?” We have used this book to specifically discuss when is the appropriate time and place to use such words!
Instead of attempting to ban a book, I encourage you to pick the book up and read it for yourself. Take notes in the margins or in a notebook. Process the information and how you feel about it. Read books with your children. Discuss the issues you encounter and the emotions you feel while reading the book. You may find that there can be good that comes from within the pages, whether it may be a good story or a stronger bond with your children and beliefs.
If you choose to not pick up the book, please do not take the opportunity away from others who may benefit in one form or another. Remember to celebrate the FREEDOM TO READ!
For more information on Banned Books Week, you can visit Banned Books Week or the American Library Association Banned Books Website.