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Chapter 36 -What You Are Looking For Is In the Library

We are just finishing up Banned Books Week here in the country that promotes free speech. This week is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and was launched in 1982 as a response to the large number of books being challenged for inclusion in schools, libraries, and bookstores. It highlights the value of free and open access to information.

There is so much going on around banning books this year that a whole month should be dedicated to this topic. The ALA (who has great information on the subject) has reported that from January to the end of August there have been “695 attempts to censor library materials and services and documented challenges to 1915 unique titles.” The rallying cry for all these challenges is that the challengers want to protect the children. While I am all for protecting children, I prefer to stand with the ALA on the issue and their official statement - “Libraries and their governing bodies shall ensure that only parents and guardians have the right and the responsibility to determine their children’s—and only their children’s—access to library resources.”

Here are some books which have been banned in the past and the reasons why.

Captain Underpants by Dave Pilkey - At the time this was banned it had more votes against it than E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey (which should have been banned for bad writing). The reasons - partial nudity, offensive language, and graphic violence. So a man wearing just underpants, calling the principal mean, and defending oneself from killer robots by smashing them to pieces is enough to ban a children's book.

The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini - The story about childhood friends takes place between pre-revolution Afghanistan and the 1990’s. This has been banned for so many reasons - violence, Islamaphobia, offensive language, sexuality, and, oddly enough, promoting terrorism! The Kite Runner which deals with themes of redemption, the immigrant experience, and Afghani history could be the poster child for banned books!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - An interesting story about a dystopian world where young people have to fight to the death in tribute to the capital city. Critics have accused The Hunger Games of being anti-ethnic, anti-family, and violent, and of having offensive language, occult/satanic references, and references to overt sexuality. When anti-government protesters in Thailand used a symbol from the book as a show of resistance, they were jailed. Who knew a book could have so much power, huh?

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - This is a coming of age story where Scout, a young girl, learns about racial inequality and loss of innocence. It has been pretty consistently banned due to instances of rape, profanity, and racial slurs. We apparently can’t just teach kids that while these things might be in a book, they are bad.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien - O’Brien has written a novel based on his Vietnam War experiences and those of his comrades. It is violent, there is profanity, and there is sexual material because all these things happen in a war. It has been banned for these various attributes, because it puts US soldiers in Vietnam in a bad light, and because it might cause offense.

I was very lucky in that my parents let me read anything I was interested in. In 9th grade I was reading Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann when a visiting relative commented that she was surprised that my mom had left the book on the coffee table as it had been banned by the Catholic Church. My mom’s response? “I’m not reading it, Vicki is and I’d rather she read it in front of me than behind my back.” Thanks Mom!

Do you have strong feelings about banned books or are you a banned book reader? Let me know!


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