Celebrating Banned Books Week 2018

24 Sep , 2018  

When I was in grade school, I went to check out the novel, Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace. I’d seen the movie, already, so it wasn’t as challenging as it might otherwise have been, for a kid my age. The librarian would not let me check it out until I read her a passage and explained what was going on. She only wanted to be sure that I would understand what I read, and I was proud to prove my reading skill and walk out of the library with that book!

When my daughter was in middle school, she came home and told me that Fahrenheit 451, which I may have suggested to her as a good book for free reading time, was banned at her school, and students weren’t allowed to read it. My first reaction was disbelief. My second was to grab my keys and take her on a field trip to Barnes & Noble. There, we found a copy of Fahrenheit 451 and I went into “subversive mom” mode. “Take this to class and bring it out during free reading time. If anyone gives you a hard time, have them call me.”

I’ll admit to a smidgen of disappointment when the phone didn’t ring. Later, I learned that the book wasn’t exactly banned. It just wasn’t available for her to check out of the school library. I’m still not clear on whether they thought it was age-inappropriate, or simply did not have a copy to loan her at the time. But a tradition was born – an annual shopping trip to Barnes & Noble to buy something from the “banned and challenged” table during the annual Banned Books Week.

Censorship comes in many forms, even in a country that enshrines freedom of expression in its Constitution. It comes when we judge our own ideas not worthy of sharing. It comes when we tell family and friends, “Oh, let’s not talk about THAT.” It comes from the workplace and the community and the church.

Books expose us to ideas that are not our own, not our friends’, not our neighbors’, not our teachers’ or our ministers’. We are free to see books as sympathetic friends or challenging adversaries. But let’s make sure we’re free to read them, and to make those choices for ourselves.

To all the librarians in my life, past, present, and future, who have stood firm against challenges to what I can and cannot read, thank you. Keep up the good fight! I’d shout it from the rooftops, but I know you, you’d probably just smile and whisper, “Shhhhhhhhhhh.”

This week, I’m reading juvenile and young adult fiction in honor of Banned Books Week:

I’m listening to the audiobook version of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Normally, I hate audiobooks. The narrators read far too slowly, or they sound like stilted schoolmarms. Not this one. The voice grew to fit the character. I hadn’t looked to see who the reader was, but it was the author, himself. The book is “semi-autobiographical fiction” and a coming-of-age novel about a Native American teen. It is profane, funny, thoughtful, and insightful by turns. I don’t think I’d have wanted to explain these books to a pre-teen, but unless a kid’s been packed in styrofoam all his life, he’s probably heard worse by sixth grade.

I’m also reading The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. It’s a thoughtful, powerful book that deals with relevant issues of race, police brutality, quiet young people finding and lifting their voices, and coming-of-age. The themes may be upsetting to children and younger teens, but to be fair, they should be more than a little upsetting to everyone, regardless of age. Read it before seeing the movie in a few weeks!


And then there’s Ban This Book, by Alan Gratz. I don’t think it’s on the banned and challenged list, but it is a wonderful book about fourth-grader Amy Anne, who, with her friends, starts a secret banned books locker library in response to the removal of her favorite book of all time, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. The make up ludicrous reasons to ban every book in the library to make a point and to take a stand against censorship, demonstrating that kids can make a difference.


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13 Responses

  1. Damyanti says:

    Both sound like wonderful books! Will check them out. I don’t get the concept of banned books at all.

    • So far, I’m enjoying them both. I will admit that as a mom, I’d want to keep them out of reach until at least middle school, and then the door’s wide open. But I can see why either would make some parents and some educators a little apprehensive, possibly introducing themes (masturbation, porn, drug use, death of a young black man at the hands of the police, just to name a few) that they may not yet be fully prepared to discuss/explain. Now, there’s a difference between, “I think my child will have nightmares or be scarred, emotionally, for life,” vs. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate topic for ANY child, anywhere, so the book should be removed from the library!” And up through middle school, I’d be comfortable with teachers getting a permission slip before including these in the curriculum. BUT – by high school, which is the readership they’re targeting, I think such censorship is inappropriate. And I think that parents who think otherwise are just kidding themselves, and ought to consider reading what their kids are reading, so they can have an intelligent discussion about it. Because their kids are about to enter a big wide world full of things they might prefer to shelter them from, but do a disservice to them by ignoring them until someone else chooses to expose them.

  2. BellyBytes says:

    I believe in coralling kids to make more of a difference. In our country an entire generation of litterbugs was cured out of this nasty habit by their children who were told constantly that littering was bad.
    Now these young kids are converting their wasteful parents to use cloth bags and live the magic mantra – reuse, recycle and reduce – the new 3R’s.
    I remember reading DH Lawrence’s banned book ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’ and found it to be quite a damp squib…. However, there are certain books that I am even today scared to carry with me when I am travelling overseas lest someone catch me with them and deport me as subversive.

    • FYI, it was kids of OUR generation who were corralled into starting the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle movement – which may have had roots in WWII and post-war rationing and conservation, but came to be a THING with the first Earth Day in 1970. That’s when the three R’s became the battle cry of a generation – ours. I can remember the litterbugs tossing trash from car windows, blatantly. No one does that here, now. It’s taken 50 years, but we have curbside recycling and can buy cheap, recycled, reusable bags at the grocery. The myriad annoying posters (meant, of course to be inspiring) that I made in grade school and middle school actually helped… 😂

  3. Rummuser says:

    A famous book banned in India from the time of its publication is still not available in India. Rushdie’s The Satanic Verse. The people who wanted it banned and the people responsible for banning it have not read it but the whole thing was done on hearsay. No online seller in the West will ship it to me in India lest it be seized by customs before reaching me. Nuts.

    • I have two copies – unless we already donated one. If I can find it, you pay me the shipping and it’s yours. Be warned: I couldn’t make it past about page 10. We all bought it, over here, out of curiosity. Why the death threats? My personal theory, after owning a copy? It’s not great writing, and some editors are HARSH, but death threats might’ve just been a marketing ploy. Without them, the book’s unmemorable.

      • Rummuser says:

        Not worth the bother. Indian Customs may seize it. Having heard many feedbacks just like yours, I can live without having read it.

      • But I’d be delighted to let you judge for yourself… Seems a terrible effort for customs to deprive you of that opportunity. They’re probably reselling it to wealthy collectors somewhere. Dubai, Iran… LOL I aspire to write a book that gets challenged, one day, but not if it just leads to a spotlight on work readers react to work, “Ho hum, so boring, don’t see what all the fuss was about. Bet her publicist put out the hit… “

  4. I thought I was the only one who had a problem with audio books.
    Now let me tell you my funny story about ‘banned’ books. When I was 15 I came home with a copy of The Godfather from the college library and my parents insisted that I not only don’t read it but also that I go and ask the librarian why it was in there in the first place. Imagine my amusement when the nun who was a librarian blushed, because she thought it was a religious book!
    Years later, when I was ‘allowed’ to I couldn’t work up the energy to read it.

    • I have a theory about why we dislike audiobooks (and are out of step with the rest of the world on that): We read FAST. Time your reading and comprehension speed, some time. I read several times faster than the average speaking rate for a professional speaker. I think this is why I grow impatient with audiobooks, unless they’re truly well-acted (I was hooked on CBS Radio Mystery Theater as a child, so I can be sucked in by a well-ACTED audio drama!) Most audiobooks are just well ENUNCIATED, not read with genuine expression. Part of my brain is bored, and part quibbles with the poor acting. “Oh, he’d never have said THAT so…so…tepidly. He’d have SHOUTED it, you little fool. And she would have shouted back, she’d have never replied so calmly…and can you even DO a woman’s voice without mocking all women?”

      But now and then, I find a gem. And it doesn’t have to be well ACTED if it’s at least read with believable emotion, like a parent who reads well might read a bedtime story to a beloved child – without rushing, because both are enjoying the story and wondering, “What happens next?” There’s a podcast on Spotify: The Classic Tales Podcast. If you can get it, try their 9 part Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. It’s excellent. So is Metamorphosis by Kafka. If the narrator doesn’t stand BETWEEN me and the words, preventing me from SEEING the story unfold, it’s all good.

      • You are right, I’m a fast reader and also very sensitive to tones!
        Sadly Spotify is still not available in India. 🙁

      • I’m so sorry you can’t get Spotify! That’s a shame. It took a while, here (I believe it launched first in Europe), but you have to wonder – it’s been years, now. Search and see if that particular podcast is available to you on the web. They do have their own site. You may still be able to listen to the Classic Books!

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