Censorship was never a problem in my house. When I was six, I asked my mom where babies came from; she pulled a book from our shelf and started showing me pictures. I missed the bus. I was reading Nora Roberts novels by the seventh grade. The librarian even had me create Accelerated Reader tests for other students because I read so many titles that weren’t in the school system.
Freshman year of high school, I was thoroughly obsessed with Harry Potter. However, my best friend’s parents sent a note to the school librarian, specifically forbidding her from checking out any Harry Potter book. Lynn’s father was a pastor for a local church, and there was a congregation-wide effort to refuse their children any books “glorifying witchcraft.”
Therefore, every morning, I brought my copy of Harry Potter to school, and Lynn would read as much as possible throughout the day before returning the book to me. When Half-Blood Prince was released, she even risked getting caught, sneaking the book home in her backpack and reading it through the night. By the release of Deathly Hallows, Lynn was a full-fledged Potterhead, and proud. She informed her parents that she was going to the midnight release of the novel, and they had a long conversation about the merits and faults of the series as a whole, specifically the implications of magic.
That is what literature is supposed to do – educate. Open up discussions and learning opportunities. Instead, people are turning important lessons into something to be feared and avoided, ideas that are corrupting our youth and giving them too much knowledge of the world.
Here are just a select few cases of challenges and bans in recent history:
- An Arizona school district confiscated titles from such authors as Sherman Alexie and Junot Diaz, just because they are Mexican-American.
- Book challengers are not fans of Maurice Sendak’s work, especially In the Night Kitchen. It was banned on the grounds of being inappropriate sexually – the nudity, free-flowing milky fluids, and “phallic” milk bottle were seen as symbols to imply masturbation or wet dreams.
- Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl was banned in 1983 simply for being “a real downer” (what with the Holocaust and all). In 2010, it was removed from the curriculum for mentioning vaginas.
- There are numerous books challenged and banned for the transgression of addressing homosexuality. These include And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, King and King by Linda de Haan, Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, which depicts the mental and emotional destruction of a young girl after she is raped at a party, was challenged in 2010 for the “glorification of premarital sex.”
- Dictionaries were removed from classrooms in California for being “sexually graphic” and “not age appropriate” because they define sexual terms.
- A school district in North Carolina banned Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison because they determined it “had no literary value.” This occurred last week.
Looking at all of the books that have been banned in recent years, and learning the reasons that people chose to challenge those titles, is more than just disheartening – it is downright devastating. When I think about some of the amazing books that have been taken away from students, I remember my own experience reading so many of them. I wonder how I would be different if I hadn’t had the opportunity to study the classics, or hadn’t been encouraged to pick up problematic titles that addressed important situations I could someday face. There are so many conversations with my parents I might have missed without a book opening the door to it. I wouldn’t have as much knowledge as one should about history, society, overcoming obstacles, realistic struggles, and many other critical themes. I would have missed entirely the lyrical prose of Maya Angelou, the haunting true story of Anne Frank, the beautiful artwork of Maurice Sendak.
Not only are adults ripping good literature from the hands of their own children, they’re ripping it from the hands of all the other children, too.
“Censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson
EDIT: As of 9/26, North Carolina reversed the ban on The Invisible Man due to the amount of backlash.