Banned Books Week

By Allison Brennan

I rarely write dual posts here and at my other blog, Murder She Writes, but I’m making an exception because yesterday launched Banned Books Week.

You can read the original post here, which also lists the prizes and blogs participating in the Banned Book Blog Hop — well over 200 of us! (To win my prizes, you have to comment over there, but you have all week to do so!) However, I’ve updated and expanded the original blog just for Murderati readers 🙂

From Ray Bradbury and FAHRENHEIT-451 (one of my all-time favorite books):

“Somewhere the saving and putting away had to begin again and someone had to do the saving and the keeping, one way or another, in books, in records, in people’s heads, any way at all so long as it was safe, free from moths, silverfish, rust and dry-rot, and men with matches.”

I’ve always found it ironic that a book about the tragedy of book banning (through the total physical destruction of books-fire) has been banned by different people for different reasons.

Parents should be the arbitrars of what their children read. If I, as a mom, ban a book from my house, that is my right. One of leaders of the Banned Book Blog Hop, “I Am A Reader, Not A Writer” said, “All books have their place, but not all books belong on every shelf.” I wholeheartedly agree.

In a free society, no one has the right to ban a book for ALL.

The ALA has a list of the 100 most challenged books in the past decade, and the Harry Potter series tops the list. And we’ve all heard about the controversy surrounding Mark Twain’s classic THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (#14), Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK (#60), and ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume (#99.) And classics like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, CATCHER IN THE RYE, and THE GIVER have been on the controvery lists for a long time. (Though I never really understood why.)

But there are some books that you may be surprised are on the list. The Captain Underpants series (#13) (a fun cartoony comic-style book that is perfect for little boys. Yes, there is potty humor. I have two boys and a husband. They all love potty humor.)  

Or Eric Carle’s DRAW ME A STAR (#61) (ages 4-up), which was objected to because it relates loosely to creationism. (THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR is still one of my favorite early children’s books–Carle is an amazing and inspired artist and storyteller.)

Or the Goosebumps series (#94) by beloved R.L. Stine.

But maybe the series that stunned me the most was the Junie B. Jones series (#71) by Barbara Park. I’ve heard that some people have issues with Junie’s grammar, but she’s either in kindergarden or first grade, and speaks how most of the kids that age speak. They’re fun, they teach a lesson in a fun and age-appropriate way, and they are great for early readers giving them confidence to read chapter books because they’re simple without being stupid. I love the series and have bought all (or nearly all) of them for my youngest daughter.

I support fully the right of parents to not allow their children to read books they don’t approve of, for whatever reason. I do not support the right of parents, or anyone, telling ME what my kids can (or can not) read.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who give up essential liberties in order to protect a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The First Amendment, as is the entire Bill of Rights, is the foundation of our essential liberties. Books are truly the permanent, enduring foundation of free speech. Our military men and women have fought and died for more than two hundred years to protect our freedoms–freedoms many of us don’t think about, or take for granted.

There are countries where people are killed or imprisoned because of what they say. There are countries where people are killed because of what religion they practice. There are countries where women have no rights, where women are punished when they are raped because, in the eyes of the government, their rape was their fault.

These are countries where government bans books and information.

Censorship is not a liberal or conservative issue. Banning books and ideas affects the left and the right equally.

But it all starts with banning one book.

What’s your favorite banned book? I have many, but FAHRENHEIT-451 by Ray Bradbury is one of my all-time fave books. For little kids? It would have to be Junie B. Jones. I read all of them to my youngest daughter when she was 6 and 7 (or she read them to me!)

How many of the banned books have you read on the ALA most commonly challenged books? In my lifetime, I’ve read 37 (books or series) of the 100.

And if you get a chance to head over to Murder She Writes this week, comment there and you are eligible to win one of many, many prizes, including an advanced copy of my next Lucy Kincaid book, IF I SHOULD DIE.

Go read a banned book. It won’t kill you. I promise.

24 thoughts on “Banned Books Week

  1. Reine

    Hi Allison,

    I remember one awful day in high school when our world history teacher suggested a book that a few of us were not allowed to read. The teacher announced that Catholic students should see her after class for an alternate assignment. I think it was Exodus??? I was horrified. While I was walking home one of my Jewish friends caught up with me and asked why we weren't allowed to read the book, and all I could say was it was on the banned books list at church. I had no idea why. At that time I was living with the Catholic portion of my family and had to follow the rules, for which no explanation was ever given just, "Before you buy a book go to the back of the church and check the banned books list." I have carried so many bad memories with me about that humiliating experience, for my friends and me, that I've never been able to read the book.

    I am grateful that the girl who asked me why we weren't allowed to read the book – and who was rightfully very angry about that – stayed my friend, we are friends to this day. We still keep in touch and see each other when ever i am in Boston. We still discuss the crazy things that went on between us back then. Sometimes it's painful, but we love that we can talk openly and that those days did not separate us.

  2. Zoë Sharp

    Whenever I've read a book which caused huge controversy, inevitably my first reaction is, "What was all the fuss about?" BRAVE NEW WORLD, which I re-read recently, is a terrific concept, but actually has quite a lame ending – ditto with 1984 in some ways. I was amazed not to see LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER on the banned list, as it was the subject of a huge court case in the UK when it was published (but I only scanned down the list quickly, and may have missed it.)

    As an aside, George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM once made it behind the Iron Curtain with a consignment of books on agriculture.

  3. Dolly

    When I hear of banned books, first reaction is outrage that someone would try to dictate what people should or shouldn't read. Then it's inevitable curiosity. Well, if it's banned, it must be interesting enough to read once. I think that especially in modern times, people who try to ban books, do it mostly for the money or publicity. It's funny how Harry Potter or Twilight (books that have made millions) end up banned lists, but not all the other moderately successful books about witches, vampires, werewolves etc. and we know there are a lot of them.

    Fahrenheit 451 is my favourite banned book, from the ones I've read so far. I'll be reading Hunger Games this week, and find out why that had to be banned in some schools (and disagree, no doubt)

  4. Sarah W

    About twenty-five years ago, a woman in Ohio tried to get *My Friend Flicka* removed from a school library because it had the word "dam" in it — that would be "dam" as in "mother of a horse." Homophones clearly make certain people uncomfortable, even in context.

  5. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries

    On reading your post I see you have swallowed the propaganda hook, line, and sinker. No book has been banned in the USA for about half a century. : Fanny Hill got that honor a long time ago. Challenged books in schools that are removed is different from banning. Setting aside that Banned Books Week is propaganda, the creator of BBW said:

    "On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn't fit your material selection policy, get it out of there."

    See: "Banned Books Week Propaganda Exposed by Progressive Librarian Rory Litwin; ALA Censors Out Criticism of Its Own Actions in a Manner Dishonest to the Core."

  6. Allison Brennan

    Reine, I'm sorry you had a bad experience with the church. I'm Catholic as well, but I never knew there was a banned books list from the Church until I was much older. I know the church doesn't like certain books because they feel they're detrimental to the faithful, but I also believe that if you are strong in your faith, nothing you read is going to shake the foundation. (I think this way about politics as well–if you believe strongly in something, nothing you read is going to change your opinion–but it might help you see the other viewpoint from THEIR eyes, and therefore be more diplomatic and understanding about valid differences of opinion.) The only book I didn't read because I'm Catholic (not because it was banned, but because the idea made me angry and I just didn't want to read it) was The DaVinci Code.

    LOL Zoe about ANIMAL FARM! Love that book 🙂

  7. Allison Brennan

    Dan, you're absolutely right–the federal government doesn't ban books for the whole country. I thought I'd made that point here, but it was in the comments of my other blog. I never said here that the books were banned universally–obviously, we all know that, we're well-read and (fairly) educated.

    BUT, local governments (through elected school boards) do ban books from schools regularly. And I fear that's the slippery slope we'll fall down. They also discuss banning books regularly.

    Parents, not government or any elected entity, should decided what their individual children should read. And because many people can't afford to buy lots of books, libraries are the only place where they can be borrowed.

    I really appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  8. Allison Brennan

    ROFLOL Zoe!

    Sarah, I love your story! I honestly can't remember a book that was ever truly controversial in my school libraries growing up, but I was also kind of clueless about things as a child (I did always have my head stuck in a book! LOL.)

    Dolly, I just love Ray Bradbury lots 🙂 I have THE HUNGER GAMES on my list. My daughter read it nearly 2 years ago and loved it and the whole trilogy, though she said the two were the best. She read the TWILIGHT series when she was younger, but outgrew it before the fourth book came out. She didn't like the fourth book at all, saying how nothing happened and at the end everyone got what they wanted.

  9. Alaina

    31 of them; I just counted. I'm always shocked when I read those lists and see what is and isn't allowed. (I mean, The Great Gilly Hopkins? Why is THAT on there? The Upstairs Room is about the holocaust, fine, some people don't want to read that, and Roll of Thunder deals a lot with racism which, again, some people don't wanna deal with.)

    I actually read The Giver and other books in that continuum a few weeks back. It might be that it has to deal with genetic engineering; they're trying to make everyone look the same, act the same, think the same. Might be that it features the death of a baby. Might be that it's possible to completely control– meaning, prevent– emotions. Still wrong.

    As an aside: Zoe Sharp, that bit about Animal Farm is priceless.

  10. Allison Brennan

    @Alaina — I was surprised by Captain Underpants, too, but more so by Junie B. Jones. Not that ANYONE challenged, but that they made the top 100 list.

    And as a disclaimer, just because a book is challenged doesn't mean it was banned in a particularly school or library. Just that the more times a book is challenged, the more chances that it'll work in some places.

    I think book banning is a slippery slope that leads us down paths we don't want to go down. Maybe I read too many dystopian novels growing up (and am amazed at how popular they are today!) or maybe I watch too much Star Trek about "perfect" societies with dark underbellies (and still, LOGAN'S RUN is one of my favorite movies!) I can just see what happens if book bans DO gain in popularity, if they become more prevalent.

    I will say in our society and with the ease of information and the Internet that it's very difficult, if not impossible, to stifle ideas or books. But what if there were no Internet? What if the Internet was filtered insidiously? Hmm, maybe there's a story in that somewhere …

  11. Pari Noskin

    I'm with you re: banned books. It's up to the parents — IN A FAMILY — to decide what is and isn't appropriate for their own children. It is NOT up to parents or school boards outside of my family to tell me or my children what they can and can't read.

    I find those attempts tremendously offensive.

    I don't try to legislate other people's morals and expect the same courtesy shown toward me. There have been times when I've withheld a book from my children, usually because the subject matter is a bit mature for them at that moment in time, but it was my decision.

    At this point, no books are off-limits to them because I trust their intelligence, life experience and our relationship enough to know they'll ask if they have questions and will think things through.

  12. Yardley

    What about what's going on right now? The whole Keeley Thomson thing that I keep hearing about online.

    If you missed that, it seems that a book got leaked a few weeks ago from a small publishing company, due to come out in a few weeks (from now)

    Some Religious people got a hold of it and freaked big time. Totally trying to have it shut down and not published at all. Inundating the people trying to put the book out with threats (economic mainly) and all that.

    Just because they don't like it's "anti-Christian message". They have other problems too of course, adult and gay themes and stuff. So in other words a book that doesn't just bow to the religious rights expectations?

    The full title is Keeley Thomson: Demon Girl and it's written by K.L. Byron published by Orange Cat Publishing (E-book, free even, for now.)

    Why their doing this at all I don't get. Pretty rich that it;s happening during banned book week, isn't it?

  13. Fran

    I would seriously love to see whoever challenged "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" explain his or her thinking to my son. I'd even supply popcorn, because that'd be an argument worth televising. My son is nothing if not passionate about things he believes in, and he loves that book.

  14. Reine

    Hi Allison,

    I agree, actually, that the church has a right to lead the flock much as a parent or teacher might their family or class. What made me angry was not having an explanation. What humiliated me was not having an explanation to give. The teacher's announcement was devastating, more so than the others to me at the time, because without that the Catholic kids could have gone home or to the priest and at least tried to figure out what to say when asked the inevitable question. Although the priest we had at the time was more of the – early and public – Pope Pius XII school and had no need to help me in my relationships with my Jewish classmates.

    The Church and I have had a rocky time of it, and that will continue. I practice my community ministry outside the church, although I received my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Emmanuel College in Boston. It was an interesting arrangement as my field site was arranged through a UCC Congregational church where I was student minister while they had no pastor. The fieldwork I did was with a community outreach counseling and psychotherapy program at the local Native American center. So Emmanuel College, a Catholic school, approved the church-neutral placement through a Congregational church.

    Many of my Salem ancestors were from Jersey, Channel Islands and had escaped the Huguenot persecution in La Rochelle. Those who went to Salem from Jersey either went to an Anglican Church as they did on Jersey, or they became Puritans. Those who went to Quebec found it better to their health and safety to lie or convert back to the old church.

    I think we want faith to be simple, but it is too tied up in our lived-religion to be anything but complicated.

  15. Tammy Cravit

    I counted 27 on the list that I've read, and a handful more that must now be added to my TBR list. I'm blessed, I suppose, that my parents were both readers (my mom was, for much of my childhood, in fact an editor at a small press that published kids' books) and pretty much encouraged my sister and I read what we liked. I was tackling fairly challenging books quite young (I seem to recall reading Ludlum's "Aquitaine Progression" at 10 or so with a dictionary nearby) and I think I'm decidedly better off for it.

    This push to ban books, though, is part of a broader trend toward a "I wouldn't do it, so you shouldn't have the freedom to do it either" attitude that seems to pervade the more conservative side of our culture. Look at the conflict around abortion rights, same-gender marriage, and the like to see what I'm talking about. Underlying these attitudes is a distressing sort of paternalism, the implication being that Those In Authority ™ have to ban certain books, deny people certain rights, because the masses can't be trusted to make decisions for themselves. This attitude, frankly, scares the snot out of me.

  16. Allison Brennan

    @Yardley — I don't know anything about that book in particular. I'm religious and go to church regularly, but I don't fear reading something that will take me away from my faith. I've read broadly about a lot of different religions (and non-religions) and while I didn't read the DaVinci Code because I, personally, found it offensive (on the premise) I don't fault anyone for reading it and I definitely don't think it should be banned.

    However, I'll add that there are book "banners" or "challengers" on both sides of every spiritual and political line. This isn't a religious/non-religious or liberal/conservative issue. Most of the issues brought up are what is appropriate for school libraries. No school libraries (to my knowledge) are attempting to stock explicit erotic romance or other obvious adult books on their shelves for 5th graders. The books that get challenged the most are those with ideas, themes, or even words that bother some people. Mark Twain. Lois Lowry. Ken Kesey. Harper Lee.

    Like Pari said (very well!) parents are the in charge of what their own kids read.

    I think instead of BANNING books, that if there are controversial books and school boards are worried, send a note home to parents allowing them to have their kids read an alternative book. Not ideal, but the idea is that the book shouldn't be banned because of the opinions of some.

    @Tammy you're getting a little too political for my taste, though I agree with your first paragraph!!! As far as book banners, it's not a liberal or conservative issue. It's a First Amendment issue. I was the editor of a conservative alternative paper on campus that some people didn't like and every issue we put out (for free), a group that didn't agree with us picked them up and threw them in the trash. I am extremely passionate about the right of ALL people to speak, whether I agree with them or not.

    @Reine — I agree that you deserved an explanation. I always try to tell my kids WHY … though sometimes, "Because I'm the mom" works. (But not for books. For books, when they were younger, I'd say, "This is too old for you." or "This book has too much (sex, violence, foul language) and you're too young." or "Let me read it first and see what I think.") Once they hit 12, I don't regulate what they read, I just keep up with them. (Or try. My #2 daughter reads more than me now!)

  17. Jenni

    If it weren't for Harry Potter, my son may not have learned to read! He struggled so much with reading, but those books got him hooked, and he's been a reader ever since.

    Thanks for the post, Allison. I've read heaps of the banned books on the list, but have a lot more to go!

  18. Tammy Cravit

    Allison, sincere apologies if my comment was taken as political. I didn't really intend it to be, and not (yet) being a US citizen, I tend to be fairly apolitical as a general rule. I am, however, a big believer in the individual right to make choices for ourselves and our families, and I become rather disquieted when people presume to make those kinds of choices for another.

    On reflection, I can see I wasn't clear that I was trying to cite examples of people trying to make personal decisions for others by fiat; I'm certain there are equally many examples that cut the other way ideologically. It scares me that so many people – of various religious, political, ethnic and other stripes – seem so willing to give up their autonomy to make decisions for themselves and their families, and to let others make the decisions for them.

    When ceding our autonomy to others in that way becomes the norm, I think, we all suffer for it.

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