Books As Weapons: A War on Words

Tomorrow is the final day of Banned Books Week, 2011.  In the words of the American Library Association:

“Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.”

This year have you read and enjoyed Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen?  How about Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, or Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Then there’s The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. 

According to Shelf Awareness, a daily email for the book trade, each of these books has been challenged, banned, restricted or removed from library shelves this year.  Sex, profanity and racism were the reasons most often quoted for objections, and those objections are most frequently issued to school boards.  Some school boards take the First Amendment seriously.  They understand there’s a wide variety of opinion on what’s age-appropriate, and they trust the teachers and librarians who have considered the options and chosen accordingly.

Some do not.

The moment we let any group dictate what we will read, because we like the way they think, we immediately set ourselves up for the possibility that the next group to make decisions may not agree with us.  By then, it’s too late.  Once we open Pandora’s box and allow censorship to fly free and wide, can we predict where and how it will land?

I’m the parent of four children.  I had the right to help them choose books I thought they should read, just as I had the right to suggest that other titles might not be appropriate.  But it never occurred to me to challenge a teacher’s choice, or a book on the shelves of my local library.  I talked to my children.  If they had a question about what they read, or saw on TV or at the movies, they knew they could ask.  Discussion was welcomed, and discussing fictional situations is a wonderful way to move into discussing real life.

I also trusted their choices.  If a book was too gritty, too controversial, too explicit, they were unlikely to choose it, just the way you or I turn off a video or a television program the moment we realize it’s not to our taste, or it’s going to give us nightmares.

The odd thing about banning books?  I can’t imagine a more sure-fire way to promote them.  Tell a child or a teenager he/she can’t do something, then stand back and see what happens. 

But if he/she doesn’t rebel?  If he/she decides that allowing others to determine his taste and views, that allowing others to tell him what he should think and read is a good thing?  Then haven’t we as parents, teachers, administrators, and even ministers, failed in the most basic of ways?  Because education is all about ideas.  Good ones, bad ones, controversial ones.  It’s not about pounding in a message.  As a country, we’ve always been proud of that distinction.  Let’s be sure we protect that freedom.

For more information, including links to read-alouds of banned books, you will enjoy visiting Banned Books Week.


  1. Liz on September 30, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    After seeing post about week on Murder She Writes, went to American Library Association website for list of banned/challenged books.
    Happy to say, I’ve read most of the classics, or consciously chose not to read a few, but was floored to see To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; 1984, by George Orwell; A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway; Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell; and Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron, to name a few on the short list.
    Worked my way through participating blogs, to say thank you.

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