Last month, my daughter, who is taking Advanced Placement Literature and is an extremely avid reader, came to me and started yakking up a storm about the course and how excited she is about choosing books for it. The whole class reads some of the same material, but students also pick a couple of titles that they read individually.
There is a list of suggested titles, many of which are classics she's already covered. She also mentioned that the vast majority of these have frequently made the lists of banned and challenged books in the United States and elsewhere.
Of course, that got me riled up, as any infringement on people's freedoms do. And it prompted another of our mother-daughter bonding sessions over the computer, kind of like our prom/pageant dress shopping and perusing for senior photo ideas.
My web search immediately brought up the American Library Association website (ala.org) and all sorts of information on Banned Books Week, which was Sept. 30 to Oct. 6 this year. This annual event, which celebrates the freedom to read and highlights the value of free and open access to information, has been celebrated for 30 years.
Wow, 30 years already. Censorship of books and other written material has been going on for eons – well before the Bible came to be – and yet, it wasn't until the second to last decade of the second millennium A.D. that a special week was set aside to commemorate this stifling practice.
Oh well, better late than never.
The reasons cited in these challenges, aimed primarily at readers of college age and younger, of books targeted for removal or restrictions in libraries and schools vary from book to book – offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, racism, anti-family, insensitivity, occult/satanic, drug abuse, violence, and unsuited to age group – pretty much anything that's not all rosy, fuzzy and warm.
We came across some interesting tidbits and observations about challenged titles, most of which remain on the shelves and available despite being challenged:
• "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Catcher in the Rye," perhaps the two biggest staples of high school and college literature courses, consistently top the list. With their hard-hitting themes, these books were born to be controversial; the obscene or racist language, sexuality, and anti-government sentiments only added to their contentiousness.
My daughters were all assigned "Mockingbird" in ninth grade, and I'm very happy with the impact the novel has had on them. Although set in an earlier time when racial segregation was much more prominent in this country, it opened their eyes to the consequences of racism and inequities in the court system that still exist today. While working on the unit, they frequently chatted with me about the book and occasionally bring it up when something comes up that reminds them of it.
Page 2 of 2 - It is refreshing to know that the teachers here don't let a little controversy get in the way of selecting high-quality reading materials for our youth.
• Many of the titles and/or authors on the list come as no real surprise due to their subject matter and/or dealing with unpopular or "out there" ideas. Some of the greatest authors of the last century, including John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, William Faulkner, and Judy Blume have multiple books on the list.
• Quite a few shocked us, though, especially books popular with youth like "Bridge to Terabithia" for the disrespect kids show to adults and combining fantasy and reality; Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" books for using "nigger" and "injun," which incidentally were replaced in the newest edition with less offensive words; The "Junie B. Jones" series for poor social values and Junie not considered a good role model due to her mouthiness and bad spelling/grammar; "Captain Underpants" series for insensitivity and encouraging children to disobey authority; and titles by beloved children's book authors Gary Paulsen and Eric Carle. The inclusion of Jack London's classic, "The Call of the Wild," also threw us for a loop.
We concluded that there is no perfect age-appropriate reading material for kids who have not yet reached adulthood. There will always be at least one parent who's offended by any given book.
• "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, was pulled from AP English class in Kentucky because two parents complained that the Pulitzer Prize winner depicted inappropriate topics of bestiality, racism, and sex. The principal ordered teachers to start over with "The Scarlet Letter."
Yep, that one's sooo much better for our seniors, with its theme of sex and adultery.
• "ttyl," the first young adult novel in the "Internet Girls" series by Lauren Myracle, is the first novel written entirely in the style of instant messaging/texting conversation. Of course this one made the list. Why? Among other reasons, because it's grammatically incorrect. No kidding?
All this stuff about challenged and banned books got me to thinking about the things I read in my youth, and how Mom highly encouraged, even steered me toward more controversial works and author, like Paul Zindel ("The Pigman" author), Vonnegut and anything by Judy Blume.
I am eternally grateful that the Crookston Public Library carried, and did not ban like some did, Blume's "Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret." Otherwise, I might not have learned and understood certain things about adolescence the way I did.