Let's Get a Serious

I meant to finish this post during Banned Book Week (last week of September). But that didn’t happen. And I don’t want this to sit in our drafts folder for a year. So here you go.

Banned Books Week is an event sponsored by many awesome organizations, including the American Library Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, meant to focus on “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.”

The books I love the most are typically banned. The Frequently Challenged Books List reads like a “to read” list to me. Many of them are classics. I love every single one of the frequently challenged classics I’ve read (about half of those listed). Though not everything that is frequently challenged is great (*cough* Twilight *cough*), a library or society without the majority of these books would be a sad place indeed. I even believe pre-teens and soccer moms should have the right to creepily drool over Edward Cullen in any case.

I like looking at things from different perspectives, which is why I’m so interested in sociology. I often put on my family shoes and take off my activist shoes (better arch support for marching, you know) to examine my values from multiple sides to make sure my personal principles are consistent across the board. So when I think about book banning (which I’m vehemently against), I think about Eliza. (It’s easier to think about her than it is to think about Jonas because her personality is already apparent.) Do I want her reading these books? Do I want them taught in her schools? Sure, I love these books. I love reading them. I read some of them when they probably weren’t age appropriate. So how do I feel about this now as a mother?

To answer that question, I picked 4 books from the frequent flier list that I’ve read and loved so that I can tell you what they’ve taught me (and what I hope they’ll teach my kids). These books are amazing on their own merit, but I’m going to tell you why the challenged parts are important.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) by Sherman Alexie

The protagonist in this book deals with physical and mental disabilities and suffers bullying because of it. Arnold goes through the emotional difficulties of racism, severe poverty of his community on the Spokane Indian Reservation, alcoholic parents, death, abuse, and murder. Alexie uses humor as a coping mechanism, shows how a child in horrible situations can overcome adversity and ends on a positive note, letting kids who experience horrible things know that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Sheltering kids from the hurt in the world is often too late. If kids don’t experience horrible things themselves, then they will know someone that has experienced this sort of pain far before most children’s literature deems such topics as age appropriate. This sort of book lets kids that experience hardships know that they are not alone, gives kids who are lucky enough to not to have experienced anything horrible the tools they need to empathize with a friend in need, and has the power to stop potential bullies from picking on someone whom they don’t understand. I don’t want my children to not know about the horrible things in the world (they will hear it on the news anyway). I want them to know about the horrible things and then help change them, fix them, and spread good.

P.S. Sherman Alexie’s article, which defends the dark themes in this novel and serious themes in young adult novels in general, gets serious about this issue much more eloquently than I ever could.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition (1960) by Harper Lee

This book has been banned because of a few vulgar words, but it is mostly banned because of its depiction of institutionalized racism. I find it hard to understand that as a reason to ban a book. I think that is what makes the book great.

I read Eliza a book about Martin Luther King Jr. a few weeks ago, and she had so much trouble understanding racism and segregation. She thought of white people and black people as “teams” sort of. And without novels, that’s the way that most people would view the era before the Civil Rights movement: white people vs. black people. TKaM doesn’t do anything to help kids understand that there were other discriminated against races out there, but it does help illustrate that people on both sides of the racial lines were fighting injustice, that change is slow moving, and that white people certainly don’t lose anything when black people have equal rights. It is the best book I’ve read that makes it easy to understand that racism is born from ignorance. The book also teaches that there isn’t always a happy ending. Life isn’t always fair. But you keep fighting the good fight. And if my kids have to read the word “damn” and “whore” to get that message, that’s totally fine by me.

Perks of Being a Wildflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) by Stephen Chbosky

I wish I had read this book as a child and not as an adult. This a great book about feeling ostracized as a teenager, dealing with peer pressure (one of the reasons it is often banned – there are themes of drug use and sex), and trying to deal with complex emotions that are hard to understand. I don’t want to ruin the book if you haven’t read it, but there are themes of sexual abuse. Without exposure to these themes, a person hearing about sexual abuse for the first time might react with disbelief or by blaming the victim. One in ten kids in the United States have been sexually abused; I think that being able to empathize with a sexually abused person is a very important thing to be learned in life.

the Giver

The Giver (1993) by Louis Lowry

Obviously we love this book. Jonas is named after the protagonist. The book is typically banned because it portrays a distopian society that uses euthanasia in an effort to try to maintain a perfect society. Euthanasia is the turning point of the book: the book depicts it as completely horrifying. The lesson: perfection and uniformity come at a cost. I think this book also teaches the principle behind one of my favorite quotes from Dr. King: “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” If there is something wrong in your society; work to change it!

Jake and I believe that instead of sheltering our kids from the bad in the world, we should use books like these to help our children become caring people who have the tools to deal with the world around them. If there is something in a book we don’t agree with, we’ll talk to our kids about it. Everything is a learning opportunity.

What do you think about banned books? Did you read them growing up? What’s your parenting opinion?

Let’s Get Serious is a blog series where we share our opinions and put ourselves out there. We get that not everyone thinks the same way; the same things don’t work for everyone. These are our opinions. They don’t have to be your opinions. We’d like to hear about what you think, but please don’t be mean to us. Let’s respect each other and talk about it!

Find more LGS posts here.