Happy Banned Books Week, Bookworms!
It’s that time of year again, celebrating the freedom to read. I was just perusing the ALA’s statistics (check them out here) and while it probably comes as no surprise to you, the VAST majority of complaints about books come in the form of parents objecting to school curriculum or what should and shouldn’t be included in the school library. I have feelings about this. Strong ones. I’ve probably discussed them in past years, but whatever. I’m putting my ranty pants back on. They’re a bit snug, so I’ll probably be even MORE ranty.
ONE: If you are a parent or guardian of a minor, you get to dictate what they do an do not read. You DO NOT get to dictate what everyone else’s children get to read. If you take issue with a book that your child is assigned in class, ask the teacher for an alternative assignment rather than attempting to deprive a whole bunch of kids the opportunity to read. You may know YOUR kid best, but teachers typically have a pretty good feel for what is and isn’t age appropriate. Give the rest of the class a chance.
TWO: This year’s BBW theme is diversity, so let’s talk about that for a hot second. One of the more common parental objections to books is racism and/or racist language, but the books cited for racism or racist language are often written by authors of color and directly address problems faced by their communities. Racism is real and it’s ugly and pretending it doesn’t exist helps exactly nobody. I feel it’s my duty as a human being to believe folks when they try to tell me about their experiences and what it’s like to be them. I’m not going to say I don’t cringe every time I see the N-word in print, but in my experience, it’s written universally in the context of “this is not the thing to be doing.” Why not use these books as a jumping off point for a discussion with your child?
THREE: It’s pretty clear from the way I’m arguing my points here that I’m not a super conservative thinker, so when I think of folks objecting to books for religious reasons, I tend to imagine it’s a conservative Christian objecting to a different viewpoint (hey, at least I recognize my implicit bias.) But the door swings both ways on this one. Folks have objected to the Bible being available to students as well, citing certain passages as discriminatory, hateful, etc. Soooooo here’s my take. Unless your child attends a parochial school, they shouldn’t be receiving religious instruction. That said, there’s no way you can ignore religion completely in an educational environment. Trying to learn history without any sort of foundation of religious understanding is impossible. And, just because a character in a novel happens to be an Atheist or Muslim or Buddhist or Lutheran or Wiccan doesn’t make a book religious propaganda. It just means they have a particular viewpoint that influences how they react to certain situations. Also, there’s no reason a kid shouldn’t be able to access religious texts through their school library should they choose to seek them out. That’s kind of what libraries are for, you know? Learning about things you haven’t already been exposed to? If your tween comes home saying they don’t want to be Catholic anymore, I highly doubt it’s because of a book. It’s more likely because you continually sign them up for Saturday morning CCD when all they want to do is sleep in. (Alright, that might have gotten a wee bit personal, moving on…)
FOUR: LGBTQ issues- are we not over this yet? Seriously? Much like people of other faiths, LGBTQ folks totally exist. Reading a book about LGBTQ people won’t “turn” your kid. And, frankly, if your kid happens to identify as LGBTQ and you think that a book can “turn” them, your kid needs that freaking book more than anyone.
FIVE: Remember when I talked about how teachers probably have a decent idea of what they’re doing? Yeah. Teachers aren’t going to assign your 13 year old to read Fifty Shades of Grey (review). But if you think that a YA or middle grade novel is going to be any more explicit than what kids already discuss among themselves, I think you’re pretty naive. Actually, a YA novel that discusses sex is more likely to correct misinformation and serve as a cautionary tale than anything. (SPOILER ALERT: Seriously, Bella Swan gets pregnant the first time she has sex. Sure, she’s married, but she’s only 18. Plus, the baby is half vampire and literally kills her so she has to become one of the undead, so…)
SIX: Part of the reason that school reading lists seem so outdated and stodgy has to be because parents pitch a fit when something like Eleanor & Park is added to the reading list (which is so flipping chaste, I cannot even.) I can appreciate the classics as much as the next nerd, but you’d get a lot more student engagement by assigning Rainbow Rowell than you would by assigning Herman Melville. Plus, a focus on the classics places a focus on (let’s face it) a lot of dead white dudes. There’s so much more out there!
SEVEN: I can only hope that attempts to ban books blow up in the face of would-be banners. In the words of the incomparable Hermione Granger: “Oh Harry, don’t you see?’ Hermione breathed. ‘If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!” – JK Rowling, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Alright Bookworms. Talk to me. If you were in high school and a book was removed from the reading list for scandalous (IE, parental objection) reasons, how likely would you be to seek out and read that book?
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