Discussion: Is it ever okay to ban books?

Posted on 09/27/2014 in Discussion / 8 Comments

Discussion

As you know, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was banned recently from Riverside Unified School District – but only for middle-schoolers (I don’t believe the book is offered at the elementary grade level).  High-schoolers still have access in their libraries to check it out and read it.  The issue here is one of mortality and sex; the parents of the middle-schoolers don’t want their kids exposed to either in their literature. A couple of years ago, I wrote a discussion piece called Why We Should Just Let Kids Read.  In the article, I talked about how a fellow blogger and twitterer was being restricted from reading Insurgent until she read a classic novel, because her parents felt there was no depth or breadth in current YA fiction.  It had nothing to do with the violence in Insurgent, ironically. I believe in protecting our children from the worst of this world, but… I also believe in teaching them they can rise above the worst in this world, or at least how to adequately handle it.  How do we do that if we are taking away the tools they can use?  Someone once said to me that books were the safest place to act out any fantasy and I fully believe that’s true.  In a book you can be a hero, a villain, fall in love, or out of it; you can be a doctor, a space cowboy, or someone’s mistress.  Your best friends can die, you can be resurrected, or experience life with Bi-Polar Disorder.  The possibilities are endless in books. I believe that books are the safest places for our children.  They allow all these experiences without any repercussions, and they can live one thousand different lives without so much as scraping a knee. Do I think we should make sure our children are reading age-appropriate material?  Sure.  But I also know that kids self-select what they are interested in, and an 8-year-old isn’t interested in the shenanigans of Christian and Anastasia.  That probably goes for middle-schoolers, too. The best part about books is that they teach our children.  I was 11 when I read LaVyrle Spencer’s books, which were filled with some steamy romance!  But it taught me that I should never settle for a man, and that love is hard work. I’ve kind of meandered a bit in this blog post, but I guess the point I’m trying to make is, we shouldn’t restrict kids’ access to books.  I was allowed to read anything I wanted – literally, anything – and I’ve gained empathy, wisdom (I hope!) and experiences I would not have been able to get anywhere else.  And the thing is, I was young enough that these books left a larger impression on me, and helped shape my life – for the better.  The sex in the books I read didn’t make me go out and shed my clothes for anyone, nor did it teach me that was okay to do.  I also don’t think I’m a space cowboy – although I do believe anything is possible. I don’t honestly think that The Fault in Our Stars was banned for the sex (mostly because the 2-page sex scene is implied and the actual intercourse happens off-page) so much as for child mortality, which is often an uncomfortable  and painful subject for parents.  But banning a book because it deals with mortality just seems like we’re avoiding the real issue here – that we need to find a way to talk to our kids about life and death.  

Other Books That Should Be Banned, Too

(I mean, if we’re banning books with uncomfortable themes for the age-group and all.)

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – explores adultery, sex, sin, and public shaming

The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank – personal journal of Anne Frank detailing Jewish confinement, Naziism, death, and implied sexual intercourse

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – a classic novel that includes gluttony (excess), murder, and references to organized crime

The Giver by Lois Lowry – explores themes of death and mortality, and implied sexual urges

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien – implications of greed, theft and selfishness

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls – animal mortality

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson – animal mortality

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – racial discrimination, class systems, prejudice, rape, use of the word “nigger”

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – strong and vulgar language

and so many more…

I think the ultimate answer to this question is that it is never okay to ban books.  Even the worst book promotes discussion of its themes, its language and its ideas, which is always a good thing.  Perhaps we should ask ourselves why these books make us uncomfortable:  Is it that we aren’t ready for our children to lose their innocence and that we’re ot ready to admit they are capable of handling adult issues within the confines of a book spine?

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Jennifer is both a book nerd and professional photographer. That means she lives in the fantasy world all the time, whether of her making, or someone else's. She collects books like the Duggar family collects kids, and began waiting for her Hogwarts letter at the tender age of 33.

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8 responses to “Discussion: Is it ever okay to ban books?

  1. We have been talking about it in psychology and teens will decide what is appropriate and what is not. I had a book I tried to read back in 8th grade that I can’t remember the name, but I remember it was uncomfortable for me because it had so many sex scenes. I think it was about deadbeat dads if I remember right. In reality I wasn’t ready for this book so I returned it to the library. Then as a 9th grader or freshman in high school I read Breaking Dawn and I have read many books with sex scenes that are well written and don’t make me uncomfortable, but add to the book. I don’t think it is wrong for middle schoolers or high schoolers to learn about relationships through books. I don’t think it has given me an unrealistic fantasy about guys nor has it encouraged me to have sex with random strangers. I’m still trying to find my perfect guy and I believe he will eventually come, but in the meantime I don’t mind living vicariously through characters experiences. Books should never be banned. The second you tell a person not to read a book that is when they are going to anyways. I’m a strong believer that teenagers will decide what is appropriate for themselves.
    Rachael @ Rachael Turns Pages’s latest thoughts >> Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (no spoilers)

  2. This, exactly! Yes. And also, the concept of “age-appropriate” is WAY too broad. At every age, some people can handle things better than others. If my child is really emotionally mature and not horrified by violence or sex or questioning the status quo, why should she be denied something just because she’s a certain age? As wildly different as parenting techniques are, it seems stupid and controlling for organizations (like schools) to make a sweeping judgement. (also, cracking up about your list. We read Moll Flanders in high school- talk about a book with sex scenes! We also read Romeo and Juliet, MacBeth, and Julius Caesar- ultra violent! These weren’t damaging to us in any way. In fact, it was downright cathartic to finally have an avenue, as a hormone-addled female teen, to talk frankly about violence, not as a victim of it (yet) but as someone who had no socially-acceptable outlet for anger)
    Beth W’s latest thoughts >> Book Review: A Triple Knot

  3. Growing up, my parents tried to keep me away some certain genres they thought were inappropriate. In some cases, they may have been right but mostly it just increased my curiosity in them. Forbidden fruit and all that.
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