Every year in late September, readers across the nation come together to celebrate Banned Books Week. Their goal? To defend freedom and an individual’s right to express themselves, both in what they write and in what they read.
Although it is not widely celebrated, I love the purpose behind this annual call to action. I can’t help cheering inside whenever someone talks about Banned Books Week. I might even torture my high school students will a discussion about the topic. They are teen parents after all, and should consider the issue. (Excuse me for a moment as I maniacally tap my fingers against each other and prepare to play devils’s advocate, no matter which side of the argument they begin with. I love a good debate.)
(A few of my students were nice enough to pose for a picture. Here they are holding up a few of the banned books I was able to find in the school library. I think a few of them plan on checking out Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak. It is one of my favorites.)
Despite my very strong religious views, I do not believe in banning books. Rather, I believe that every one has the right to their opinion and that every writer has the right to tell the story they wish to tell. Censorship is dangerous. Ignorance is dangerous. Books should not be banned.
That does not, however, mean that I think any person, no matter their age, should have easy access to any book that has ever been written. No one can deny the fact that some books (or films, or television shows, or video games) are graphic and too mature for a young reader. I will not argue with an adult, or even an older teenager, who chooses to read something that is, for example, sexually explicit. I would, however, argue with allowing a middle or an elementary school student access to the same book.
This is where things get tricky. And this is, in many cases, the reason why the discussion about banned books can lead to such passionate advocacy for one side of the debate or the other. Just last year I heard a powerful testimony from a woman who spoke out in support of someone who tried to have John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars removed from a middle school library.
Truthfully, I was surprised to hear about the ban. I had recently read The Fault in Our Stars and I didn’t notice anything questionable in the material. After a quick consultation with a parent, I learned that the scene in question was when the two main characters have sex. Now, from what I remember (someone else has my copy of the book, so I wasn’t able to confirm this) there is no graphic description in the book, there is no sex scene. There is just a reference to that fact that the characters are having sex. I was then reminded, by the same parent who enlightened me, that the temporary ban was on the book’s presence in a middle school library.
So, the question, in that particular case, that I had to ask myself was whether or not I believed that a middle school student should have access to a novel that included, and one could suggest it condoned, teenage sex?
Wow. Talk about a loaded question. Needless to say, the devil’s advocate in me was ready to roar its head. There were so many possible responses to that question. And so many questions to consider before making a decision. Should the book be allowed? Should it not be allowed? The sexual relationship is mentioned, but not described explicitly. And it’s not like middle school students don’t know that some teenagers have sex. Parents are, understandably, not happy about this fact, but it is a fact.
Then I asked myself about what conditions could make it appropriate? And if I even agreed that it might not be appropriate? Truthfully, I don’t have a problem with the book, even for a middle school student, but I am not a parent. I am also someone who loves to read, and who loves to read Young Adult Literature. If I had a teenager who read the book, I would just be sure to have a conversation with them.
If we start this discussion, I could write a response that lasted pages and pages. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll ask you a few questions.
(1) Do you think we should ban books?
(2) How should we, as parents, teachers, and citizens handle our children’s access to mature books?
And, just for fun …
(3) What is your favorite banned book?
(4) Why was it banned?