“I read banned books,” says one of my favorite “political” buttons. Before giving it to my mom, a school and public librarian, I went online to see if it was true lately.
Banned Books Week starts today. With new books published all the time and human nature being what it is, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the list of banned and challenged books keeps growing. Even around Washington.
“Here?” you’re thinking. ”Where we’re so enlightened?” I surveyed public and school library systems in the District and surrounding jurisdictions, and many officials said the same. “[Our] highly educated and fairly liberal populace values reading and has a strong tolerance for different viewpoints,” was a typical response.
Nationwide, more than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982, according to the American Library Association (a Banned Books Week sponsor). Among them:
“The Color Purple” • “The Kite Runner” • “Native Son” • The “Harry Potter” series • “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” • “To Kill a Mockingbird” • “Slaughterhouse-Five” • “The Catcher in the Rye” • “A Light in the Attic” • “Candide” • “Bridge to Terabithia” • “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” • “Brave New World” • “Speak” • “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” • “Catch-22” • “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” • “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”
Parents raise most challenges. Mainly, they don’t want children getting into themes that the parents think are age-inappropriate. Sex, drugs, violence, demons, problematic religious beliefs (or lack of).….
And racism, of course, which is why people object to “Huckleberry Finn.” Other people object right back, saying that exposure to the classic is exposure to history and literature and satire and good stuff like that. Biff! Bam! Pow!
Objections to “The Hunger Games”? Kids killing kids, though it has more uplifting themes of family loyalty and girls’ strength and skills.
“The Grapes of Wrath”? It won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award and was adapted into a film and the most powerful Broadway play I’ve ever seen. Critics attacked it as socialist propaganda.
The popular “Captain Underpants” series? Potty humor, irreverence and a gay character.
“Fahrenheit 451”? Irony alert! It’s about censorship of books. All of them. Actually, author Ray Bradbury said it’s about the triumph of broadcast media over literature and sound bites over complex thought. He’d feel horrified but vindicated at the sight of an American family dinner table – assuming he could find one – where everyone’s checking email, sports scores or Pinterest on personal devices.
In Loudoun County schools, parents have objected to “ttfn” (pot, booze, sexuality) and “Wizardology” (fantasy). In Howard County schools, the graphic novels “Hidden” (a Holocaust story) and “Drama” (middle-school experimentations). In Fairfax County schools, “Beloved” (where do we start?) and “Of Mice and Men” (profanity, violence). In Montgomery County schools, “The Five Chinese Brothers” (stereotyping). In Anne Arundel public libraries, “It’s Perfectly Normal” (sex education); Alexandria libraries, “Final Exit” (suicide).
The flip side: These books are well reviewed — many are prize-winning — and get kids reading, questioning and thinking. Isn’t that what schools, and libraries, are for?
“Censorship is the enemy of truth, even more than a lie,” says journalist Bill Moyers. “A lie can be exposed; censorship can prevent us from knowing the difference.”
My librarian mom was delighted with her button. “Banned books are the best books,” she said. Spread the word.