As I was lazily browsing the lovely Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga the other day, their "Banned Books" display really caught my eye, mainly because it was full of books I had NO IDEA were banned at all. A "banned book" is one that has been removed from the shelves of a library, bookstore, or classroom because of its controversial content. In some cases, banned books of the past have been burned and/or refused publication. For instance, I had no idea Charlotte's Web was a banned book (apparently because of the "unnaturally" talking animals and inappropriate content-the spider dies)? How about Our Bodies, Ourselves, Boston Women’s Health Book Collective from 1971. Challenges of this book about the female anatomy and sexuality ran from the book’s publication into the mid-1980s. One Public Library lodged it “promotes homosexuality and perversion.” Or how about To Kill a Mockingbird? I loved that story so much I gave Lev the middle name Harper in honor of the author, Harper Lee. For some educators, the Pulitzer-prize winning book is one of the greatest texts teens can study in an American literature class. However, others have called it a degrading, profane and racist work that “promotes white supremacy", and have called for it to be banned. I have to admit, I sort of thought "banned books" were a thing of the past. But sadly, that isn't the case. In 2012 at least 464 formal complaints were filed seeking to remove books from libraries or schools, according to the American Library Association, a sponsor of Banned Books Week, which runs September 22-28. Their mission is to celebrate the freedom to read and highlight the pitfalls of censorship.
Banned Books Week started in 1982, the same year the Supreme Court ruled that students' First Amendment rights were violated when Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" and eight other books were removed from school libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since then. Despite the legal precedent, schools and libraries still receive formal challenges to remove books from library shelves or take them off reading lists to protect children from material some see as inappropriate.
I think the importance of Banned Books Week, to me, is to appreciate the fact that we can find, and read, what we like in this country. But an unread book will have no impact, banned or not. So take it as a motivation to just simply read, read to your kids, and make sure they read on their own. Pick one that has been banned or challenged, or one that hasn't, and you can decide for yourself what does or doesn't have merit.
These books are on the "banned" list, and they also happen to be some of my all time childhood favorites.
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Oh man, I loved this book. Buying her first bra, getting her period, making new friends, Blume captures that exquisite awkwardness of being a middle school girl perfectly, and made me feel a little bit less alone in the new world of growing up. The reason it was banned? Questioning God/religious uncertainty and inappropriate dealings with the onset of puberty. Okay then.
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
My brothers and I loved this book about, yes, eating worms. It was silly and fun, and I loved reading it to my kids this past year. Many lively discussions sprung from this book, most including how exactly they would eat worms and a new found love for bugs and worms was born in Lev (who prefers to be "worm vegetarian" because she thinks worms are cool). Reason for being banned? It encouraged children to engage in socially unacceptable behavior, profanity and promoted gambling. Alrighty.
Blubber by Judy Blume
This was a powerful book for me, a story about a group of girls who gang up to bully a classmate. It taught me the importance for standing up for other people, standing up for what you know is right, and just simply being kind to each other. Banned because of profanity and that the villain is never punished for her cruelty. Because we know that the villian ALWAYS gets punished for cruelty or wrongdoings in real life, right? Right...
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This is a beloved, classic children's book. Banned because it was considered “sexist" and was also challenged by several schools because it “criminalized the foresting agency.” Seriously?!
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Oh my God I wanted to be Harriet the Spy so bad! I thought she was the coolest, and the smartest. Banned from several schools for being “a bad example for children.” It was also challenged for teaching “children to lie, spy, talk back, and curse.”
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Yes, this was banned. Why, you ask? It was banned by a Virginia school because of its “sexual content and homosexual themes.” Also, the book was previously banned by several schools in the United States because it was “too depressing” (YES REALLY). Most recently, in May of 2013, a Michigan mom tried to get the book banned due to its “pornographic tendencies.” Just plain crazy talk.
As I said, make it a point to read. Read to your kids, read for yourself, just pick up a book and appreciate it. xoxo