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September 29, 2013 / ljbradburn-Smith

Banned Books Week – Better late than never!

I didn’t think I should let Banned Book Week go by without a little mention. Banned Book Week, sponsored by the American Library Association, is a week-long celebration of our freedom to read, when we book lovers are encouraged to read a previously banned, challenged or restricted book. Books are banned/challenged for so many different reasons, the most common being, “overly sexually explicit”, “portrayal of religious beliefs”, “homosexuality” “anti-family” “insensitive” and generally “not suitable for age group”.

Unsurprisingly, challenges seem to happen a lot in schools, when parents, disagree with something that their child has been given to read and appeal to get it taken off reading lists and out of the libraries. A challenge is said to be not just someone expressing their point of view, but an active attempt to get a book banned or restricted. This is a hard one to call because, of course, parents have a right to protect their children and just because one child, in an age group, may be fine to read something this doesn’t mean that all of them will be emotionally mature enough to cope with certain content. Although, saying that, I think it really depends on what the book contains. If a parent challenges a book because they feel their child cannot cope with the violence or will be affected negatively by the “anti-family” content then I can see how, to a certain extent, they may feel this could be detrimental. However, could this stem from fear – do some parents suppose that reading a book about a child who hates their family will mean that they will automatically follow this example without good reason, without thinking it through or without it being part of their natural makeup? Learning about and discussing difficult topics in a safe environment, such as a school or at home, seems much more likely, to me, to produce open-minded children who are aware of the different facets of life, both good and bad, rather than an angry mob who will go around punching everyone just because bully Bob does! In some ways I think that learning about the dangers life can hold could in fact protect our children and give them an example of what can happen if they choose to behave a certain way.

On the other hand, if someone challenges a book because it presents a point of view, which they disagree with, in a favourable light. For example it explores homosexual relationships, then, I believe, this is a case of parents pushing their views on their children and expecting them to have the same ideals as they do. Is it fair to stop children learning about the world and making their own decisions? Could we end up with children who continue the prejudices of their parents if not allowed to learn about things when they are perhaps at their most open-minded? Children need to know that being homosexual isn’t wrong. They need to understand that if they choose to follow a religion that differs from their family that this is okay. If we don’t trust our children to make decisions about what is right or wrong then how can we expect them to grow in to mature adults who have a say in what happens to the world.

In honour of this week I decided to list 20 banned/challenged books that I have read and enjoyed. Here’s to our freedom to read what we want to read!

1. Are you There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume
2. Dubliners by James Joyce
3. Fanny Hill by John Cleland
4. Flowers For Alergon by Daniel Keyes
5. The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende
6. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. Moll Flanders by William Defoe
10. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
11. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
12. Goosebumps by R.L Stine
13. Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
14. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
15. Harry Potter by J.K Rowling
16. The Witches by Roald Dhal
17. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
18. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
19. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
20. The Collector by John Fowles

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16 Comments

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  1. Cecilia / Sep 29 2013 12:27 pm

    Wonderful post and I really agree with what you have said, especially as a mother of a young reader. I find it very selfish of adults to make blanket statements about what children can and cannot read. I’d read many books growing up that were inappropriate, but I also had a mind and will of my own. I’m very open with my 9-year-old about a lot of things, though if I “ban” something from him it is with an eye to his readiness, and I always talk about it with him. He, for example, wants to read The Hunger Games but I told him it’s quite violent in a frightening way and it may be a bit overwhelming for him at this stage. He agreed and is willing to hold off for now. I agree, too, that the more they read and learn, the better prepared for life they will be.

    • ljbradburn / Oct 2 2013 12:18 pm

      Thank you very much for your comment! I think that you have got the perfect balance there and you are right, there is a world of difference between outright saying your son can’t read something and actually talking it through with him. My mum was the same and always gave me a reason that I could understand. As someone who has always been encouraged to read I have learnt so many valuable life lessons from books over the years and I feel sorry for others that don’t have the same chance. I think there is protecting youngsters and then there is smothering them!

  2. Christine / Sep 29 2013 3:35 pm

    I agree with all of this, and I’m honestly just realizing now how lucky I was growing up with my parents simply encouraging me to read – no matter what the content. Yes, sometimes they would look at the title/cover or read the synopsis and look at me and ask ‘Are you sure you want to read this?’ and when my reply was ‘yes,’ they agreed to let me get it. They never told me ‘no’ flat-out, just let me know that they were concerned and to be careful.

    Also, what lists of banned/challenged books did you look at to compile your list? Because I’ve looked at a couple now and some of the ones you mentioned weren’t on them, even though I know you’re right.

    • ljbradburn / Sep 29 2013 5:19 pm

      Thank you! Me too, I have always been encoraged to read and my parents were always openminded with my choices, it definately helped that I have an English Lit teacher as my mum as she really values books and what children can learn from them 🙂 I looked on various different sites and lists and a couple I looked up specifically to see if they had been banned/challenged as I could imagine they would have been. The Collector was one of these. A fantastic book if you haven’t read it 🙂 x

      • Christine / Sep 29 2013 10:02 pm

        Oh, that’s awesome! My dad’s mom was an English teacher, too. I only saw her two weeks out of the year unfortunately (she lived 8 or so hours away), but she still introduced me to some excellent books 😀 And no, I’ve never read The Collector. I’ll have to add that to my ever-increasing TBR list! 😉

  3. calmgrove / Sep 30 2013 8:11 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. There’s a world of difference between just protecting the child and giving them the mental tools and strategies to cope with what they read. After all, they have to go out into the world on their own sometime. And that also applies to state-sponsored censorship and adults.

    Also, there is a sort of unconscious reverse psychology thing, isn’t there, about banning: condemn a book (or film, or TV programme or whatever) loudly and often enough and that only encourages curiosity about it — as several do-gooder organisations have found but not learnt from. What a certain prime minister in another context called ‘the oxygen of publicity’. Many of the banned books on your list have thus been made more attractive than supposedly more worthy titles.

    • ljbradburn / Oct 7 2013 4:44 pm

      That is very very true, I’m sure that a lot of these books have been given more attention because they were banned/challenged! I agree, children need to be protected and parents have a right to try and do this, as best they can, but it can end up having a negative impact if not done properly. Thanks very much for your comment 🙂 x

  4. Sherri / Sep 30 2013 11:06 am

    I must be a very bad mother indeed because I always encouraged my children to just read, read, read no matter what. Goosebumps was a favourite. The only time I was a bit concerned, having said that, was when my daughter obsessed over some of her older brother’s called ‘Scary Stories’ (can’t remember the author’s name, shame on me). I didn’t lke her having them because of the pictures in them, which were pretty freaky. They were young adult books and she was about 7 or 8. He regrets letting her read them now because sure enough, she did get scared of those pictures and I paid the price with her nightmares!! Another great post Lydia 🙂

    • thebiggestsmile / Sep 30 2013 9:47 pm

      I used to LOVE Goosebumps books!

      • Sherri / Oct 1 2013 9:06 am

        I still have them all, stored away in boxes along with all their other books 🙂

      • ljbradburn / Oct 2 2013 12:23 pm

        Me too!! Will have to dig them out again 🙂 x

    • ljbradburn / Oct 2 2013 12:22 pm

      Thanks Sherri, hehe, I think you sound like a fantastic mother! My mum was the same and I think I turned out okay 😉 That being said I do agree with you that sometimes you have to step in, there are always limits and things that children just aren’t ready for. A lot of the time I think the problem comes from parents not really trying to understand how their child may interpret something. Some of the reasons for challenging books just seem so obscure to me! x

      • Sherri / Oct 2 2013 1:16 pm

        You turned out just great 🙂 x

  5. thebiggestsmile / Sep 30 2013 9:48 pm

    Are you kidding? James and the Giant Peach was a banned book?????

    • ljbradburn / Oct 2 2013 12:12 pm

      I know! I was very confused about this but when I looked it up I was surprised that it had been challenged and banned for several reasons, some being: magic (satanism), apparently references that could be seen as sexual (spider licking lips!), abuse (James’ treatment by his Aunts) and even bodily image (descriptions of Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker). I think some people have been taking Roald Dahl far too seriously and not even stopping to think about what he had to say on these issues, he wasn’t exactly advocating abuse! x

  6. calmgrove / Oct 8 2013 9:39 am

    Bans are often little about protecting the innocent and more about consolidating power. Books are often banned for political or religious reasons, because the material will supposedly introduce wicked ideas into the minds of innocents. In reality, if (a) those innocent minds had been brought up to think critically and (b) the tenets of the political or religious institutions had been respectful of individuals, then there would be no need to worry that questioning the status quo would undermine the authority.

    If however the regime has an authoritarian approach (as must have been the case in some of these nonsensical bans) then there’s no surprise that they suspect sedition in the most mild of thoughtful of texts (Harry Potter ‘encouraging’ witchcraft, The Lord of the Flies revealing children are capable of base instincts, The Handmaid’s Tale suggesting women are not second-class citizens).

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