Thursday, October 2, 2008

Banned Books Week’s 27th Anniversary

Just coming off a marathon 60K-word work in progress (WIP) that is now happily circulating in Critiqueland, I’m a little late coming to this subject of Banned Books Week . It’s astounding that in this new millennium, people (some of whom are, frighteningly enough! running for vice president here in the good old US of A) can presume to tell others what they should and should not read. That civilization could have made such progress in science and not in education completely floors me.
I can only hope that one day, my writing will be at the level to challenge people to question themselves, make them pause, shake up their world a little and perhaps even turn their thoughts to subjects they might not otherwise consider. In the meanwhile, I pay homage to the authors that made the Top 10 list in 2007:
1. Robert Cormier
2. Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
3. Mark Twain
4. Toni Morrison
5. Philip Pullman
6. Kevin Henkes
7. Lois Lowry
8. Chris Crutcher
9. Lauren Myracle
10. Joann Sfar

Of the more than 400 books challenged in 2007, The American Library Association noted that the 10 most challenged books were:
1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell. Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
2. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier. Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence
3. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes. Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language
4. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. Reasons: Religious Viewpoint
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Reasons: Racism
6. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language
7. TTYL, by Lauren Myracle. Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. Reasons: Sexually Explicit
9. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris. Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit
10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

The most striking thread among this list is that, with the exception of two, all are children’s or YA books. Presumably, then, the challengers to these books are parents. If parents don’t allow their children the opportunity to expand their minds through reading, how do they expect their little darlings to take on the challenges of the world upon adulthood? Teach your kid to think on his/her feet. Think for himself. Empathize with those in difficult situations. And stand back and watch the world become a better place, one based on understanding and mutual respect rather than fear and bigotry. Do your kids a favor – instead of buying them violent video games, buy them books.
According to The Onion, parents should have much worse fears than books (and although it's written as ironical fiction, don't believe for a second that it is).
Of that list, the most ironic reason, to me, was religious viewpoint. Hmm. Isn't that why our ancestors came to America? To escape those who would force an unwanted religion upon them?
Thankfully, book stores and librarians comprise the first line of defense, and are superheroes in defending authors’ works. By making others aware of these challenges, they are challenging the challengers. Awareness is key to understanding. If only the closed-minded people who oppose these books would recognize that.
Support your right to read. While I certainly can’t say it’s a cause for celebration, it is vital to acknowledge Banned Books Week. So acknowledge this important week today, and every day, and open your mind to new experiences. Read.

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