Tag: Banned Books Week

Sep 29

Katie’s Unsolicited Opinions on Banned Books Week

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Greetings Bookworms!

It’s Banned Books Week, one of my favorite times of the year. It’s always great fun to discuss the reasons people have for writing to their local libraries and/or children’s schools to complain about the reading material. Objections are almost universally tied to what is and isn’t appropriate for children and teenagers. As a non parent, I should probably keep my mouth shut. The last thing I want to do is play into the Mommy Wars. However, this subject gets me all fired up. I’ve listed some of the popular reasons people challenge books… And my rebuttals.

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  1. Offensive Language: Profanity is always high on the list of reasons books are challenged. Here’s the thing. The words exist. Kids hear them. If they’re in school they DEFINITELY hear them. A lot. Kids love saying bad words. It’s a safe little rebellion for them. Be glad they’re swearing and not shooting heroin. Perspective.
  2. Satanic/Occult Material: You guys. Harry Potter is not your enemy. I repeat: Harry Potter IS NOT YOUR ENEMY.
  3. Sexually Explicit: Teenagers are curious and hormonal. A book is a great way for them to explore the complexities of sexuality with ZERO RISK of getting pregnant or contracting a disease. Your teen is either going to have sex or they’re not. I can virtually guarantee that reading a book isn’t going to change their position on that one way or another. I mean, you remember being a teenager. You had a brain in your head. You weren’t THAT malleable.
  4. Homosexuality: Regardless of your feelings on homosexuality, gay people exist. They’re not going to magically disappear, and they’re legally allowed to marry in the US. Being gay isn’t contagious. Your kid is going to be gay or they aren’t. A book isn’t going to change that. And for the love of all that’s holy, if your heart doesn’t break into a thousand pieces reading about a pair of male penguins trying to hatch a rock, I don’t think you’re doing compassion right.
  5. Drugs/Alcohol/Smoking: I’ve read a good number of young adult novels. A lot of them depict drug use, alcohol use, and/or smoking. I’ve yet to read one that glorifies any of these things, but I’ve read a ton of cautionary tales. Seriously. These books are way more likely to expose the dangers and consequences of substance abuse than to glorify them. And again. A book isn’t going to pour booze down your kid’s throat. Really. A book doesn’t have arms.

What’s the moral of this post? A book isn’t going to undo your parenting. At most it will open the door for discussions on complicated subjects, during which you, as the parental unit can re-instill whatever values you’ve been trying to teach. You have a much bigger impact on your kid’s behavior than any book could. Exposure to different lifestyles, opinions, and circumstances will only help turn your kid into a well rounded adult ready to face the world. Now. Go forth and read all the things. And let your kids read them too.

Alright Bookworms, sound off. Is this post thoroughly smug? If I ever have children will I someday eat my words? 

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Sep 25

Banned Books Week & Diversiverse: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Hey There, Bookworms!

It’s still Banned Books Week, and I’m still celebrating Diversiverse. Today’s book has popped up on the list of Top Ten Banned Books over and over again in recent years, so OF COURSE I had to find out what all the fuss was about. I picked up a copy of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and started reading.
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Frankly, I’m having a heck of a time figuring out why everyone is so worked up about this book. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the semi-autobiographical tale of Sherman Alexie’s first year in an all white high school. The main character, Arnold “Junior” Spirit, is a brilliant kid living on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Confronted with the daily frustrations of life and the limited opportunities on the reservation (and, well, an incident involving the violent flinging of a textbook) Arnold decides to leave the high school on the reservation to attend the school of a nearby farming community. I’m going to list some objections from book banners and challengers, then discuss why I think they’re wrong. Cool?

theabsolutelytruediaryofaparttimeindianObjection the First: The language in the book is rather colorful. Then again, I’ve yet to meet a 14 year old who is scandalized by profanity.

Objection the Second: Arnold has a penchant for, uh, self pleasure. But dude. He’s a 14 year old boy. That’s a pretty universal 14 year old boy experience. Virtually all the sexual encounters in this book (aside from a few fairly chaste kisses) are done solo. No underage sex. No teen pregnancy. No STDs.

Objection the Third: This book deals with racism, head on. Pretending racism doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. Getting inside the head of someone different than you might make a difference though.

Objection the Fourth: There’s also quite a lot of discussion of the rampant alcoholism that plagues the reservation. I don’t think anybody is really thrilled to think their kids might take up drinking at a tender age, but this book makes one of the strongest anti-alcohol cases I’ve ever read. If anything, I think it would prevent kids from touching the stuff.

In short, SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS?! Don’t ban this book. It’s a fantastic coming-of-age story. It is tragic and heartbreaking and wonderful and difficult- just like being a teenager. It’s also got some killer illustrations which offers a little extra something to the reluctant reader crowd. Everybody likes a cartoon, I tell you! Although, maybe y’all should keep banning it. Nothing will get teenagers to read something faster than hearing adults tell them they can’t! Here’s a bio of the mastermind behind the controversy:

Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October 1966. A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane, WA. Alexie has published 18 books to date. Alexie is an award-winning and prolific author and occasional comedian. Much of his writing draws on his experiences as a modern Native American. Sherman’s best known works include The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Smoke Signals, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

 Let’s chat, Bookworms. You remember being a teenager, surely? Was there any activity made more appealing to you by the fact that your parents or other authority figures didn’t want you to do it? I’m curious, really, because I was really rather dull and my parents didn’t make any attempts to restrict my reading material…

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Sep 23

Top Ten Weirdest Reasons Books are Challenged

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Howdy Howdy Howdy, Bookworms!

It’s Banned Books Week still and I thought it might be fun to look at some weird-ass reasons books have been challenged and/or banned. The most common complaints about books are the holy trinity: sex, drugs, and naughty language. Those are the ones you expect to see, you know? Luckily for our reading enjoyment, there are some more entertaining problems that have caused folks to get their knickers in a twist over books. Check these out.

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1. Talking Animals are an Insult to GodWinnie-the-Pooh and Charlotte’s Web have both been challenged because they feature talking animals. Apparently in certain religious circles, talking animals are an insult to God. Sounds like those folks would have done well in Gregory Maguire’s re-imagining of Oz…

2. Depicted Women in Strong Leadership Roles- Speaking of Oz, apparently The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was banned in 1928 in all Chicago Public Libraries because Dorothy and the witches were ladies with power. True, Dorothy and Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West were the key players and the Wizard was a charlatan. True all Dorothy’s male travel companions were lacking a certain something. I still fail to see this as a problem. Then again, I’m a big old feminist and would likely land on the naughty list of the folks who hated this book myself…

3. Because it Defined Oral Sex- Okay, I know that a book being sexual explicit makes easy pickings for challenging books, but in 2010, some schools in California banned the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary because it included a definition for oral sex. You know how I learned what oral sex was? My 6th grade science teacher told us on the bus to the annual health center field trip that oral sex wasn’t just “talking about it” it was “mouth on genitals.” That resulted in a resounding “ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww!” from a bus full of 12 year olds.

4. Middle Class Rabbits- It seems Beatrix Potter has been challenged in some schools in the UK because only “middle class” rabbits are depicted. My sources failed to mention if the challengers wanted more rich rabbits or more poverty stricken rabbits, but the middle class just wasn’t representative enough of rabbit society. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.bbwbeatrix

5. Witchcraft- Because Satan. I’m always frustrated by wanting to be tolerant of religious beliefs and wanting to shake people who think Harry Potter could possibly be a bad influence. It’s not just HP, of course. Pretty much anything that deals with magic, spells, potions, witches, wizards, fairies,  mythological creatures (and likely fun in general) is seen as problematic by some.

6. It used “ass” or “bitch” in the appropriate context. Ah yes. Bad language. Books are forever being challenged for the use of dirty words. But I’m not talking about f-bombs here. I’m talking about using the word “ass” to refer to a donkey and “bitch” to refer to a female dog. That IS what they mean, after all. It’s not “ass” and “bitch”s fault that people started flinging them about in a rude manner.

 7. Anne Frank is a Debbie Downer- Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl has been challenged for a number of reasons ranging from perceived homosexual undertones (what the what?!) to the idea that the Holocaust is too mature a theme for certain age groups. The one I find most amusing (and troubling) is that Anne Frank is just too depressing. Well, yeah. It is depressing. The Holocaust was an atrocity of unspeakable proportions, but it happened, and astonishingly recently. You can’t just dismiss a book because reality sucks. I actually think this book is one of the best introductions to the Holocaust there could be as it deals with the family in hiding rather than the nightmare inducing subject matter of a concentration camp memoir.

8. It Teaches Children to Spy- Harriet the Spy apparently encourages children to spy, lie, and be general malcontents, according to some opponents. Funny, after reading this book as a kid I recall learning that spying wasn’t a great idea and that you shouldn’t talk smack about your friends in a secret notebook (a lesson kids today could learn in regards to Facebook!)

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9. Promotion of Cannibalism- The perrenial favorite Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein supposedly promotes cannibalism in children. Unsurprising given that some of Silverstein’s other works have been so insidious as to “encourage children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” (Please tell me someone else thought of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead: “The dishes are done, man!” I can’t be alone here!)

10. Little Red Riding Hood is an Alcoholic- Some have voiced concern that the timeless fairy tale depicts LRR putting a bottle of wine into her basket of goodies for Granny. Never mind the fact that Lil’ Red didn’t drink it. And never mind the fact that if she HAD drunk it, the tale originated in a time when potable drinking water could easily have given you dysentery or cholera and you were better off with a little alcohol. Never mind that a Big Bad Wolf is eating people. NEVER MIND. BOOZE IS BAD.

Talk to me Bookworms. Anybody out there heard of any strange reasons for books being banned and challenged? Which of the weirdo reasons is your personal fave?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Sep 22

Banned Books Week & Diversiverse: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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Hey there, Bookworms!

It’s one of my FAVORITE weeks of the whole year. That’s right kiddos, it’s BANNED BOOKS WEEK! This week I’m going to be basking in the glory of books that have been banned and challenged. I’m planning to, as my friend Shelli is fond of saying, “feed two birds with one scone” (because why would you want to kill the birds?) and chose banned books by authors of color. It’s a Banned Books Week/Diversiverse hootenanny up in here!

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I’m going to start this party with The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. It is challenged ALL THE TIME. A few pages into the novel and it’s clear why. You’ve got naughty language, sex, booze, alcoholism, incest, child molestation, rape, domestic violence, bullying, poverty, and basically every other horrible thing people do to break each other. Why you gotta bruise my soul, Toni?!  The Bluest Eye is a book designed to make you uncomfortable. How could it not? The fact that it makes people uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s without value though. Not by a long shot!
thbluesteyeThe vast majority of book banning and challenging takes place with regard to school curriculum. This book is not an easy read, and I wouldn’t recommend reading it aloud to a 4th grade class. (I do have some common sense, I promise.) I would, however, defend The Bluest Eye as a choice for an advanced high school English class.I know, I know. I don’t have kids. I was, however, a teenager, and I remember that whole experience keenly.

As far as profanity goes, I heard more casual swearing in my high school hallways than I have anywhere in my adult life. I knew kids who would drop F-bombs to punctuate phrases the way I’d say “like.” I know what you’re thinking! “I don’t mind the profanity, Katie, but what about all the sex and incest and violence and general horribleness?” To which I respond, “Why, this book is chock full of cautionary tales!” All the things you should NOT do in order to be a decent human being are represented. It’s also got a hefty dose of what I like to call getting-inside-other-people’s-crazy-heads. For every broken psyche, you find out what happened to the character that contributed to their particular problems. Empathy! Teenagers need it!

My teenage self would have eaten this up. You know what was not at all interesting to my teenage self? A ginormous book about a freaking whale. Kids get burned out with all the classics. That doesn’t mean they’re without value either, but changing it up every now and again with something that’ll make a teenager’s jaw drop? That’s amazing. Take your pitchforks elsewhere, book banners, The Bluest Eye is here to stay! On the off chance you know nothing (Jon Snow), here’s a little about Toni Morrison:

Toni Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford), is an American author, editor, and professor who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for being an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters; among the best known are her novels The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. In 2001 she was named one of “The 30 Most Powerful Women in America” by Ladies’ Home Journal.

Talk to me, Bookworms! Are there any books you wish you’d been assigned to read in school? Is there a classic you’ll hate forever on principle because you were forced to read it? Inquiring minds and all that…

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Sep 23

Banned Books Week 2013: Eleanor and Park?!?!

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Hey Bookworms!

It’s time to celebrate Banned Books Week. Every year the national book community sets aside a week to celebrate FREEDOM!!! (I hope you imagined me bellowing that a la William Wallace in Braveheart because that is how it sounds in my head.) There are few things that raise my hackles the way banning books does. Of all the crazy shiznit that goes down in The Handmaid’s Talewhat has always bothered me the MOST is the prohibition of women reading.

The American Library Association doesn't want you to ban books either. (Image courtesy BannedBooksWeek.org)

The American Library Association doesn’t want you to ban books either. (Image courtesy BannedBooksWeek.org)

Books are banned and challenged by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. They’re banned by governments for spreading subversive ideas. They’re banned by religions for containing content they find offensive. Lately though, the groups that seems to be getting the most press for trying to ban books are parental groups.

Most of the time, I try to keep my nose out of the Mommy Wars or any debates on parenting. Sure, I have opinions, but as I do not yet have any progeny, it seems ill advised to wade into those waters. HOWEVER… Some yahoos in Minnesota tried to have Eleanor and Parkthe brilliant coming of age novel penned by the ridiculously talented Rainbow Rowell, banned from their schools’ reading lists.

Yep. This is happening right this minute. A group of parents in the Anoka-Hennepin school district has chosen to wage a war against my beloved E&P. If you feel like raising your blood pressure, you can go ahead and take a look at their list of complaints on the Parents Action League website. What’s got these parents all riled up? Profanity mostly. Because, you know. Middle and High School aged children have never heard a bad word. They’re certainly not using them either (GASP.) Also, it’s chock full of “crude and sexually charged material.” Sure. For a book where no actual sex takes place. Hand holding is described in all its intensity. The characters in this novel never graduate beyond some making out and minor groping! But of COURSE normal teenagers wouldn’t know anything about THAT either. 

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In fairness, I wouldn’t recommend reading Eleanor & Park to a young elementary school student, but we’re talking about teenagers. I’ve been a teenager. They’re a heck of a lot smarter than groups like Parents Action League ever give them credit for. I’d think parents would be stoked at the idea that their kid was assigned a book in school that they ACTUALLY wanted to read. Dismissing the messages presented in Eleanor and Park based on concerns over naughty words and heavy petting is a ginormous mistake. There’s so GOOD to be had in E&P!!! It addresses bullying, abusive home situations, first love, body image, being different, and GYM CLASS. I’m positively flabbergasted that anyone could object to this book, it has ALL THE LESSONS!

Of course, the Parents Action League also promotes an aggressively anti-gay agenda, so I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this… My only hope here is that the kids in this district decide to rebel against their parents. I came of age when “explicit lyrics” labels began being posted on the outside of CDs (remember CDs, guys?!) All those warning labels did was make it easier for me to decide what album to buy next. Explicit lyrics meant the album was going to be edgy and cool and everything rock was supposed to be. I can only pray that teenagers do as they’ve done for centuries and come to the same conclusion about Eleanor & Park. 

So, Bookworms. I suppose it’s stupid to ask if you agree with me about Eleanor & Park specifically, because differing opinions obviously won’t sway my beliefs. However. I am curious. How much say do you think it is appropriate for parents to have in the curriculum assigned to their children? We’re talking public school here. Weigh in y’all. What do you think?

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