Banned Books Week Sept 22-28

Posted by in Lit Chat | 44 comments

Banned books week Ray Bradbury Quote

Next week is Banned Books Week. Since 1982, over 11,300 books used in classrooms or available from public libraries have been challenged. Banned Books Week draws attention to the effects of censorship, as well as to how the majority of challenged books remain available. Please join me in this annual celebration of the freedom to read.Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian was the second most challenged book of 2012. It is also a book I have first-hand experience defending. A new middle school English teacher read passages aloud to his class, and once he uttered the word masturbation, the witch hunt began. In the end, the book went through the district’s barely used review process. The book remained in the library, but could no longer be used in the classroom.. Before the end of the school year, that teacher was fired for “other” reasons.

At about the same time, the school’s “librarian” (she did not have the required endorsement from the state) began labeling books. Such an act becomes censorship when students are not allowed to check-out books labeled as a certain reading level or marked as being for a certain age group. Placing books on restricted shelves or requiring parental permission for check-out is also a form of censorship. Needless to say, such incidents only helped solidify my decision to leave public education.

Banned Books Week Cover Image Sherman Alexie

Such instances of book controversy beg of question of where to draw the line regarding subject matter regarding novels that contain material some may find objectionable. My experience as a teacher taught me that parents too often assume a teacher is going to dwell on controversial subject matter in an immature to gain students’ attention. Too little trust gets extended to teachers to use their professional training and judgement.

I used to keep a poster of banned books on the back wall of my classroom. When a few minutes remained at the end of class, students waiting for the bell would glance over the covers and titles: To Kill a MockingbirdAnimal FarmThe Giver. Titles they had read or would read, but still they expressed difficulty in understanding how a book being objected to in one community may never create any controversy in another.

Reading literature remains one of the safest ways to explore an often harsh and confusing world. So often, the teaching of reading skills becomes an exercise in how to pass a multiple choice test. At their core, reading and writing are about thinking, and one cannot learn how to be an effective thinker if only presented with pleasing or “safe” material.

Banned Books Weeks draws attention to our freedom of expression, especially the expression of ideas that go against the grain. More information can be found on the American Library Association website.

What thoughts or experience have you had in dealing with banned or challenged books?[signoff][/signoff]

Image Credit: Fire I by Leeca from sxc.hu

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Jeri Walker-Bickett
JeriWB writes short stories, creative nonfiction, and psychological suspense. The rough Idaho mining town she grew up in populates her literary landscape. She also works as a freelance editor.
Jeri Walker-Bickett

@JeriWB

Author of short stories, creative nonfiction, and psychological suspense. Blogger of writing tips and lit chat. Freelance editor. http://t.co/sfCsmQ5hyM
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Jeri Walker-Bickett
Jeri Walker-Bickett
Jeri Walker-Bickett
I offer a variety of freelance editing services. Previously, I served as an editorial assistant with The Idaho Review, Boise State's literary journal.

44 Comments

  1. Wow, I had no idea there was a “banned book week” – I’m glad people like you are drawing attention to this! I just finished reading Alexie’s book a few weeks ago and although raunchy at times, it’s written in a way teenagers would understand and probably enjoy. It was amazing to see some of the responses teens sent the author about how much the book helped them… and yet it must be banned because of profanity!

    • Dan, that’s awesome that you’ve read Alexie’s book. He’s such a great writer. Young adult literature such as his book can be a great way to hook reluctant readers. As you point out it’s raunchy, but in a way that is absolutely true to the character. Beyond the way he captures the voice and personality of a young boy, the novel is full of great thematic element and literary concepts. Young readers are much more likely to want to learn how to understand how literary terms apply to a book if they are hooked on the story.

  2. A great reminder that censorship is alive and well in our schools. I appreciate you bringing this to our attention!

    • Grace, censorship is so alive in schools… I have so many stories I could tell.

  3. I loved the book, and the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird. I always try to see the movie after I read the book, in cases where there are both. I don’t like to have my book ruined by the movie. However, in some cases, the movie makes the book better!

    I know this has nothing to do with banned books, but I wanted to add this comment here, seeing as how you mentioned the book I just did!

    • Lorraine, in a way your comment does deal with banned books since To Kill A Mockingbird still gets pegged by some as being offensive or inappropriate.

  4. Those who think censorship does not exist anymore need to wake up. Unless people like you bring this to our attention most will remain unaware. Great job Jeri! :) My belief is that a book should contain what makes it real and valid, not going for sensationalism. I am not going to dismiss a book simply because it contains profanity or distasteful situations. Age appropriate reading is the key.

    • Cheryl, point well-taken and something I try to keep in mind as many of the characters I create seem to come from the wrong side of the tracks. I’ll be interested to see you response on next week’s post about how to determine whether or not a book is age appropriate.

  5. Gosh, as a former educator, this is something I could write volumes about. To often a book is banned for a simple word without consideration of what the book is all about. Often times it has great value and a lesson many at different ages could use and is so much need. “To Kill A Mockingbird” is only one example.

    • Susan, I’ve seen books like The Grapes of Wrath used in schools, but with words like “damn” blacked out with a marker. What good does that do? Words do shape our reality, and how we think and see the world, but blacking them out or hiding them by banning a book is never going to be the answer.

  6. This reminds me of the record labeling fights in the late 80’s. The original intent of those battles were to ban “offensive”music. They settled for labels. The only thing this really did was make it easier for kids to pick out the music with offensive lyrics.

    When we ban and label we create a sensationalistic draw to the “problem.” People want to find out what is so wrong with it.

    The worst thing is we let a few “moral” gate keepers decide what is best for us instead of watching over our own children and ourselves.

    • Jon, can you say Tipper Gore? I remember seeking out the GRN Appetite for Destruction album and knowing I was in for an inappropriate treat thanks to the explicit lyrics label.

      • I seriously do not like that woman.

        There have been quite a few albums I bought specifically for the label. Sometimes they were horrible, the language was solely there for shock value. But there are times when you can find a great album or book or whatever that the language is appropriate for the work.

    • Jon, can you say Tipper Gore? I remember seeking out the GRN Appetite for Destruction album and knowing I was in for an inappropriate treat thanks to the explicit lyrics label.

  7. Love the Bradbury quote. I think the problem with schools is that parents don’t want to have conversations with their kids that they perceive to be tough. I’m in the same boat. I get it. No one wants to explain things they’re not sure kids are ready for. But, you only have to explain those things to the level of your kid’s curiosity (which is often not as detailed as the parent’s knowledge base; and parents are getting themselves worked up over something that is probably a small deal in their child’s overall educational experience).

    Most importantly, reading about experiences that aren’t your experiences helps make children (and adults, for that matter) more thoughtful and compassionate. Banning tales about these experiences does nothing but give children (and adults) the false impression that the world is a different place from what it is.

    • RJ, you make the point beautifully that a child’s level of curiosity is usually not on par with the knowledge base of an adult. Yeah, I can vouch that English class is typically a non-event in the average day of a high school student ;)

  8. Thanks for the wake up call, Jeri. I truly believed that banning books had gone by the wayside long ago. Is there anywhere on the Internet where I could find a list of these books? This has gotten my curiosity up.

    • Glynis, the yearly list of most frequently challenged and banned books can be found on the website of the American Library Assocation (ALA).

  9. I didn’t realize, there was a “banned books week” – but I’m glad there is. In this day of mass communication, it’s practically impossible to confine information. When I was in high school, my history teacher had a poster of Mao Tse-Tung in the classroom, and he would joke about it. Once, a little friend of mine popped by after class, and got a load of the poster. She went home, told her mom – who called the principal and had the teacher remove it. I was horrified! It may not have been a book, but it was an educational tool …

    • Krystyna, your comment about the poster does not surprise me at all. As a teacher, one of the thoughts that most constantly wore on my mind was whether or not the administration or school board would have my back if a complaint like the one you mention got raised. Too often the teacher is not sided with in order to appease one parent. That’s scary.

  10. First they came for a book about the coming of age of a homosexual, and because I was not gay, I did not speak up.

    Then then came for a book with a black hero, and because I was not an African American, I did not speak up.

    Next they came for the vampire tales, and because I did not read urban fantasy, I did not speak up.

    So when they came for the mystery writers, there was no one left to defend me.

    My attempt to adapt Martin Niemöller’s famous quote for the occasion of Banned Books Week.

    • Candy, at times it seems like all writers, all artists come to think of it, are in great danger of being attacked. I have my long list of reasons for leaving the classroom, but chief among them being that I knew I would be deemed unworthy of my credentials once I published stories that contained realistic characters speaking and acting in ways that some would see unprofessional for a teacher.

  11. I have never heard of banned book week. I guess you are never too old to learn. I know this may sound stupid but if you don’t like the content then you don’t have to read it. I like that many books have value and let the reader be the judge .

    • Arleen, as adults we can choose not to read subject matter that we find objectionable. When it comes to literature being used in classrooms, this gets much trickier.

  12. I didn’t know there was a banned book week. Censorship does take away our freedoms, but sometimes I wonder if we’ve taken those liberties too far. I’m referring to some of the violent video games out there and the growing violence in society. Some people feel that if we censor video games, then books should also fall into the criteria. Then again, who should make the call as to what’s appropriate and what isn’t appropriate. Did I confuse you yet?

    My biggest concern is when they consider changing an author’s words, such as the controversy regarding Mark Twain’s, Tom Sawyer. In all other forms, changing another person’s document, be it contract, letter, is illegal, and so are books. Public domain or not, those words belong to someone else, and when they’re changed, I feel a crime has been committed.

    Banning books does take away our freedoms, and some of the reasons as to why the book is banned is just ludicrous.

    • Denise, my view is that video games that contain graphic violence are labeled as such. It is a parent’s responsibility to know what games their children play. In a world where so much was, is, and will always be driven by sex and violence, censorship will never be a viable answer. Education will.

    • Denise,
      I wrote a paper on the violence in video games in college. Violence and sex in art has existed since time immemorial. The first piece of art on record was actually a sexual image (Can’t remember the name of the piece right now). These themes are intertwined with what make us human.

      When I wrote the paper I was pro violence and sex in video games based on our art history. One of the comments I received was from a mother in class who wanted an excuse to tell her children they couldn’t play the games.

      Not liking something, fine your choice. needing someone else to tell you how to parent, that is scary.

  13. Aside from the obvious reasons why trying to ban books is a stunned idea, think about the amount of garbage floating around on the internet that is freely available. If you can’t get to it from the comfort of your home, you only have to visit the local library, to get access. So why spend all that money slotted for education chasing down every closed minded individuals personal vision? The whole idea of banning content is based on an outmoded perception of the world and technology. I don’t know what to say about those parents who live in fear of their children being exposed to the world, but I have to wonder what administrators who follow up on these things are thinking.

    • Debra, since I’ve worked in a very conservative district, I’ll just say some parents go to great lengths at trying to ensure their children are not exposed to ANYTHING, even going so far as to raise objections to leaving CNN playing with subtitles in the commons area because the commercials might be too inappropriate. Imagine what it’s like to try to teach under such conditions.

  14. I went to a K-12 school and I was an advanced reader. I remember a teacher and the school librarian had a conversation about me and “authorized” me to start checking out books from the high school section when I was still in grade school. It was a great favor for me, but I never thought about it in terms of censorship of the other students my age until now. Interesting thought.

    • Scott, you’re lucky. I was told by the school librarian that I was picking books too advanced for my age (I was an average reader at best). To show here, I started checking out even more books aimed at adults from the public library. I’m sure all my sneaking into the pages of those books is why I eventually got over some issues with reading ability. Plus now I am a writer in spite of those who tried to hold me back.

  15. Jeri — I wasn’t aware of Banned Books Week either. It’s very scary that states like Texas have tried to ban books that teach evolution. Access to books — even if they are distasteful to some people — is at the core of our democracy.

    • Jeannette, the trend these days seems to be various groups who can’t compromise seem to adhere only to facts that support their opinion, while ignoring evidence to the contrary. It’s hard to teachers to teach critical thinking when a growing portion of the population seems to advocating against it.

  16. Wow. This is news to me about how big this problem is. To have a week of awareness may not be enough. Where is mainstream media on this? Of course they may be reporting but I am out of town and not tuned in much. Just one more government freedom taking grab my the gatekeepers. Thanks Jeri.

    • Patricia, the media doesn’t give too much attention to controversy over literature being used in schools. Now maybe if a book could twerk like Miley Cyrus, the issue would get more attention ;) On a more serious note, I think the problem with banned and challenged books is reflective of the growing chasm between political parties, but I’ll put a lid on my thoughts for now, though I can imagine it’s clear which side of the fence I sit on.

  17. Ya know…. I am thinking about going to get a “banned book” and just read it on principle, then post a review about it next week. The educational system has become so watered down over the years, that when you actually see educators, not instructors, that care about broadening the minds of youth, they are ridiculed and forced to choose a direction. How can we be a truly free society, if government is mandating what we should read or not read; learn or not learn; experience or not experience.

    This is a great post Jeri! It is sad that you felt you needed to make the decision you did about leaving public education.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Mark, that would be so appropriate is you picked up a banned book and gave it a review next week. What a great way to raise awareness even further. I agree about the education system becoming watered-down, and that’s why I chose to no longer work within such a system. I know teachers are supposed to be so selfless, but I had to draw my line somewhere. I disagree though that government is totally mandating what gets read. The move to a common core for educational standards can help alleviate many of the curriculum issues that crop up when a student moves from city to city.

  18. I so agree that you can’t “learn to be an effective thinker if only presented with pleasing or safe material.” And coming from my perspective on conflict and the need for conflict management education, I would add that controversial books can add to teaching kids to debate and learn about different perspectives.

  19. Thanks for spotlighting such an important literary week, Jeri.

    • Christy, no problem. I’m always happy to help fight the good fight :)

  20. I had never heard of banned book week before.
    I don’t understand why you would ban a book. Doesn’t it just make it all the more appealing?

  21. Canada has a similar initiative, called Freedom to Read week, which occurs the end of February. It is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Periodic and Book Council.

    • Donna, thanks for letting me know. It would be interesting to see how other countries other than the USA and Canada deal with book censorship as well. I think I feel a future blog post coming on ;)

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