I make my way most months to New Orleans for an SCBWI meeting where I spend my time looking at a sign in the front of the room like this facsimile I have reproduced. Since next week, September 5 – October 1, is Banned Books Week, it seems like a fitting thing to consider censorship blindness. Some of the frequently challenged and banned books make my head swim. Let me give a few instances.
There are those I read aloud to my students – Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; and The Giver by Lois Lowry.
My daughter began her career as a fifth grade teacher with Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli as her first read-aloud book.
Coming soon is a movie of a favorite, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson. Gilly uses some non-Sunday school language in a powerful foster child story. The book would be less without that language. Come to think of it, Katherine gets herself in trouble with the book police fairly often. Jacob, Have I Loved, probably my favorite Paterson book though I love them all, has come under their microscope more than once. Katherine, missionary’s child and preacher’s wife, what could she be thinking?
There are classics like Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird and best sellers like The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini that have been called into question.
With some degree of regularity, I read from the Holy Bible – are the book police serious? Of course, the Bible does have quite a bit violence, harsh words, and sexuality.
It seems to me the books most often threatened are the ones that make us think and see. Hear me carefully, I’m not saying we don’t need to make judgments as to what we read. In our book discussion group last week, we got off topic – not unusual – and drifted into book recommendations. A grandmother in the group listened to get book ideas for her grandchildren. As we discussed one book recommended for her granddaughter’s age, she said, “My granddaughter would be terrified. The book would not be for her.” The difference? She was making a decision for a child she knew, not in any way suggesting the book should be banned from the library or school for those who would enjoy such a book. Reading reviews and discovering if a book suits your taste or is appropriate for those in your care is quite legitimate.
I recommend celebrating Banned Books Week – choose a book from this blog or google “banned books” to find several lists. Live dangerously and read one. You don’t really want to be blind.