By Megan Khatchadourian
Let’s start with an important question. What’s more dangerous: talking animals, curse words and passages that mention sex OR restricting speech and preventing individuals (in some cases children) from freedom of expression and the ability to freely form thoughts about the world around them?
For me it’s the latter. Who wants to live in a world that has become so sterilized that authors and their fans are no longer able to both create and enjoy the content without fear of persecution by those who seek to pull “these kinds of works” off shelves and out of the public’s eye? As the daughter of a librarian, more specifically a children’s librarian, we were taught from a very young age the importance of reading and all of the benefits that come from it.
It wasn’t until I was much older and had gone to my “brain-washing” liberal arts college and eventually found myself in the trenches fighting daily to prevent the erosion of our civil rights and liberties that I realized that librarians are pretty awesome civil libertarians! Not only are they the curators of these amazing places that house shelves filled with books, magazines etc. on pretty much every topic you can think of, they also work to protect your rights by keeping your reading lists private and allowing you access to computers without the restrictive filters that have cropped up over the past decade. What we’re so quick to forget in this day and age is that libraries and the information they hold were the first “world wide web.”
Let me step off my “libraries and librarians are awesome” soapbox and bring this post back to those books I reference two paragraphs ago – yes, there is a point to my rambling. We have all seen the lists of challenged or banned books, and it’s probably a sure thing that we’ve read at least one of them sometime during our lives. But have you ever stopped to read the reasoning behind their challenges? They are both infuriating and amusing to read at the same time. Here are some of my favorites:
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White – Who doesn’t remember Wilbur and his special bond with Charlotte; or how Mrs. Golly the duck taught us all how to spell Mississippi? Well apparently several parents groups have deemed those lovable characters blasphemous. These groups believe that in God’s eyes humans are the highest life form and giving human qualities to animals should not be tolerated. Other reasons for its challenge – storylines about death are not appropriate for children. Side note: this book is a Newberry Honor Medal recipient.
A Light in the Attic – Shel Silverstein – I have a word limit, but if I didn’t I would fill pages talking about Mr. Silverstein’s books and my dog eared and torn book jacketed copies of his books I have on my bookshelf, and the memories of childhood that come flooding back when I pass them. If you thought the above reasoning was silly, one list of banned and challenged books I read in doing my research referenced a group in Wisconsin who in 1985 challenged this book of poetry because, “[it] encourages children to break dishes so they don’t have to dry them.” – This one leaves me with no words!
The Dictionary – Both the Merriam-Webster and American Heritage versions of this reference book have been banned, in one case as recently as 2010, for their “graphic definitions of sexual acts.” My response, let’s not be so worried about this educational tool when things like the “Urban Dictionary” exist (don’t know what the Urban Dictionary is? It goes far beyond the scientific definitions of things, and is not for the faint of heart.)
The Giver – Lois Lowry – I’m including this one for my favorite librarian (hint: my mom). It’s her most favorite banned book. Reasons for banning this dystopian YA classic--that has also been awarded a Newberry Medal--are varied but the main reasons are, that it’s not suitable for the age group in that it desensitizes children to the subject of euthanasia and death and that it was “too violent” and described sexual scenes and “sexual awakening” in the characters. There was even a challenge for the mention of words such as “transcendence” and “clairvoyance” because those are themes associated with the Occult. I simply remember the discussions and thought process that followed reading about this new “utopian” society.
Did I miss your favorite book? Not sure if it made the list? You can find more comprehensive lists here. And as always, learn more about the dangers of censorship and it’s restriction on your right to free expression on our Free Speech page.