It’s Banned Books Week, celebrating books that are absolutely, objectively horrible and mustn’t be read by anyone. They’re books that need to be blocked from school libraries, ejected from public libraries, struck from publisher’s lists and set on damn fire every time they’re encountered. Which means that most of them (although by no means all of them) are worth reading, particularly when it comes to books for school-age kids who shan’t be exposed to naughty language or mentions of sex. Because if there’s one thing that abstinence-only education has taught us is that if you never, ever mention it, kids will never do it.
So here are six banned and/or challenged children’s and young adult books to read to a kid this week in honor of Banned Books Week.
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Where it was banned: Virginia (and challenged in Michigan)
Why it was banned: Not just too graphic, but pornographic for middle-school kids
Why it should be read: It’s history, for God’s sake. It’s actual, epistolary history through the eyes of a girl who’s the age of the kids (in some cases not) reading the book. It’s graphic, scary? History is graphic and scary.
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engel
Where it was banned: Challenged in Alabama, in Iowa — it’s gotten a lot of challenges
Why it was banned: Magic and anti-Christian themes
Why it should be read: “Caperton’s favorite book” should be reason enough, but try this: Smart outcast uses intelligence and love to save the world. Or, see above in re: “Caperton’s favorite book.”
Forever, Judy Blume
Where it was banned: Arkansas, protested by the ironically named Parents Protecting the Minds of Children (but really take your pick of states)
Why it was banned: Portraying a teen’s entry into young adulthood, including depictions of sexuality and promoting a “homosexual agenda.” Kids absolutely must be sheltered from stories about things they’re experiencing in their own lives.
Why it should be read: Because kids absolutely shouldn’t be sheltered from stories about things they’re experiencing in their own lives. They should be given stories about people going through what they’re going through, so they don’t feel so alone, and people going through what they aren’t going through, so they’ll learn to develop compassion.
Similarly: Deenie, Blubber, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, and basically every other book Judy Blume ever wrote, for pretty much the same reasons; she’s practically the patron saint of banned books.
Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss
Where it was banned: California
Why it was banned: No shit, “homosexual seduction” on the part of Sam
Why it should be read: I mean, it’s an easy-to-read little-little kids’ book about trying things instead of just dismissing them out of hand. Eventually, I suppose that could include homosexuality, but in my brief babysitting experience just getting them to try non-Kraft mac and cheese is a win. Plus, I can say with authority that it’s great for reciting to drown out the angry shouting of fundamentalist campus preachers.
A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein
Where it was banned: Florida
Why it was banned: “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes,” a poem suggesting that kids can avoid drying dishes by breaking them on the floor
Why it should be read: That poem, and all the other silly poems, because silly poems are good for kids. That one happens to also be among Caperton’s favorite poems (which is a short list because I’m not really into poetry), and I was never influenced to start destroying my family’s property to get out of doing my chores.
Similarly: Where the Sidewalk Ends, banned for the poem “Ladies First,” which apparently supports cannibalism.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
Where it was banned: Dunno.
Why it was banned: I’m actually not sure. I’ve seen it mentioned on numerous lists of banned books, but I’ve never actually seen an explanation as to why it’s so terribly verboten. So I’ll make one up: It’s terrible and ban-worthy because it might make children defy authority and run away to live in museums and touch all the exhibits that are clearly labeled “don’t touch.”
Why it should be read: Because getting locked into the Met sounds awesome, stories about young girls solving mysteries are awesome, and stories about young girls making stories are even awesome. (Okay, yes, because it’s another one on “Caperton’s favorites” list. I was a reader. So sue me.)
Similarly: The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
And a bonus banned book to keep around, although probably not to read aloud at night:
Where it was banned: California
Why it was banned: For including the definition of “oral sex”
Why it should be read: For… defining words, including but not limited to “oral sex.”
And that doesn’t even include the books that communities have determined are inappropriate for high school-aged kids, a list that includes just about anything that mentions sex and/or is written by Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison. So what do you think? What wicked, evil, horrible, inappropriate, banned books should we be reading to kids in honor of Banned Books Week?
(Updated 9/24/14 to be more betterer)
In comments, Galen Charlton points us to a post by librarian Kelly Jensen, reminding us about what we should really be celebrating in our observances of Banned Books Week:
When we “celebrate” banned books week, we strip the context of censorship from the equation. Books are the conduit for discussion, but they aren’t the purpose. Their being banned isn’t the celebration.
The celebration is intellectual freedom.
When a book is pulled from shelves, it’s not easy for readers to seek the book out. The notion that anyone can hop onto an online retailer and purchase a copy is fraught with privilege and it undermines the implications of what it means when a book is taken away from readers. A book being censored or removed from the hands of readers isn’t about the physical or digital manifestation of the book; it’s about the fact a right has been striped from another individual or a community more broadly.
The ability to read any book you wish to off any shelf anywhere is about the freedom to thought. It’s about the freedom not to have to jump through hoops to pick up the book everyone is talking about. It’s about being able to decide for yourself whether or not you agree with the central premise of the book or the ideas expressed by the author of that book. It’s about your right to read and think, free from other people making those decisions on your behalf.
Pull one of your favorite banned books off the shelf, make a display, do a read out — and enjoy the fact no one is stopping you from doing so. Read those words out loud, make a video about them, write passionately about those books and what they mean.
But don’t do it under the guise of “celebrating” the banned books.
Celebrate the intellectual freedom to do so.
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