Words Have Power: Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week 2017 Official Words Have Power Twitter Image

This week (September 24-30, 2017) is the annual Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and others.  The ALA has a department called the Office for Intellectual Freedom, which records “challenges” to books in public schools, libraries, etc. every year.  Last year in 2016 there were 323 challenges.

Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2016 GIF

There are many reasons why books are challenged; here’s the list of the ten most frequently challenged books last year, along with why they were challenged.

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Several of these are YA books; several are graphic novels.  The only book I’ve read is Eleanor & Park, which is a truly wonderful book that really touched me.  You can read my thoughts on it here.  It was challenged for its “offensive language,” which I honestly don’t remember.  Maybe there were some kind of slurs in it?  I don’t believe the book portray this language in a positive way, but rather as a realistic part of the sometimes harsh lives of these teenagers.  Here’s an interesting article on the challenges to Eleanor & Park, as well as the author’s reaction to them.

Several of these books I can understand may not be appropriate for certain age levels.  I always support parents taking an interest in what their kids are reading.  However, that does not give someone the right to determine what other parents’ kids are reading, and that is what censorship does.  Banning or removing books takes away our freedom to information, our freedom to read what we want.

Have you read any of the top ten banned books?  Any other challenged books you are reading?  Here’s some more info about book challenges in the US.

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Banned Books Week 2016

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It’s Banned Books Week!  This event, which takes place this year from September 25-October 1, celebrates our freedom to read and brings attention to the harms of censorship.

Last year, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 275 challenges to literature around the country (down from 311 in 2014).  Here’s the list of the top ten most challenged books last year.

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Of the top ten list, I have only read the Bible (not the whole thing; I’m Catholic ~_^).  I love the note that someone challenged it because it was “illegal.”  I must assume that this was in a public school.  I would still support the critical study of the Bible as literature in a public school setting, along with other religious texts, in a pertinent class.

This week, I am reading the graphic novel V for Vendetta.  To my knowledge this book has not been banned (thought China did not allow the release of the 2006 movie adaptation), but it is still very appropriate because of its condemnation of government censorship.  While we here in the US are lucky to have our freedoms protected by the First Amendment, we must still be careful  before allowing other citizens to decide what it okay for us and our children to read.  That decision is best left in the hands of the reader, or their guardians.

Knowledge, like air, is vital to life.  Like air, no one should be denied it.

There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill.  There’s only an idea.  Ideas are bulletproof.

–V (Alan Moore, V for Vendetta)

Have you read any of these books?  Which is your favorite?  Are you reading any banned books this week?

I (still) read banned books

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Celebrate Banned Books Week with me!  According to the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, there were 311 challenges to books last year.  Check out the infographic below for 2014’s list of top 10 challenged books, plus a bunch of other info.

There are three graphic novels on the list this year: Persepolis, Drama, and the Saga series. (Korean manhwa The Color of Earth has also been on the list previously.) Graphic novels are an interesting case.  People who are unfamiliar with them may see “comics” and assume that children are the intended audience when that is not always the case.  And the visuality of the medium sometimes makes things that might not be so racy in a written book seem much more…graphic.

I absolutely adore Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples.  You can read my previous thoughts on it here.  To be honest, its content is very adult and I would be hesitant to include it in a high school library collection or assign it for a class unless there were a specific reason a teacher wanted to teach it.

Public libraries are a different story; I first read Saga by checking it out of my local public library—I found it in the section specifically for adult graphic novels, distinct from the comic/manga section in the young adult area.  I think that kind of labeling is useful because it helps readers (and parents of readers) make an informed decision about the kind of content they are selecting.

I am tickled by the fact that one of the reasons for challenging Saga is that it is “anti-family.”  I think most people who have read it would agree that it is, in fact, very pro-family.  The cover of issue 1, shown on the infographic below, depicts the main characters Alana and Marko (a married couple) and their infant daughter Hazel (who narrates the story).  Much of the story has to do with them struggling to keep their family together in the face of racism and war.  What is more pro-family than that?

I have just picked up Persepolis from the library and will be reading it this week.  Are you reading any “banned” books right now, or have you in the past?  What is your favorite book on the 2014 challenged list?

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Banned Books Week: Blog Party

It’s Banned Books Week!  Sponsored by the ALA and other groups, this annual event celebrates the “freedom to read.”  Come join in with the Banned Books Blog Party hosted by hannahgivens at Things Matter.

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The most frequently challenged books of the past year (2013) were:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

I have actually only read one book on this list: The Hunger Games.  Looking at the list of top challenges from 2000-2009 (which includes my high school years), however, I have read many more.  I have written previously about how #23 The Giver by Lois Lowry affected me when I read it in the 6th grade.  One thing it did for me was open my imagination to worlds of science fiction, a gift I am grateful for today as a writer and scientist.

My Facebook cover image this week.
My Facebook cover image this week. Get yours at http://twibbon.com/support/banned-books-week

It’s strange to me that anyone would want to put a blanket ban on a book, rather than individually assessing a students’s maturity and reading level, and using a book’s themes and concepts to start an open conversation about difficult ideas.  Exposure to these ideas is part of growing up.

Just last month I read a blog post by author Shannon Hale relating a note from a school librarian whose district wanted to remove Hale’s Books of Bayern series from elementary library shelves.  No one had complained about any of the books.  It seems that the fact that the Bayern series is typically reviewed as being for “Grade 6 and up” was construed by the district to mean that the books were therefore not appropriate for anyone younger.

The Bayern books are wonderful and have no objectionable content.  I would have loved them in upper elementary school.  Rather than limiting students, shouldn’t we be encouraging them to read more advanced books?  The idea that education is one-size-fits-all can’t be beneficial for our children.  It wasn’t for me.  I was lucky that my elementary teachers (and my parents) let me read books from higher grades’ summer reading lists.

Every book may not be appropriate for every child (or adult).  But that decision should be made on an individual basis and should involve the reader as well as his parents and the relevant teacher.  Blanket bans are not the answer.

 

Banned book week wrap-up

I hope everyone had a lovely time reading banned books this week.  I know several libraries in my area were doing read-ins and raffle drawings.
As I said previously, I have been reading The Count of Monte Cristo. I would not have thought of this as a “banned book” until in my research I discovered the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.  This is a great long list of books and authors banned by the Catholic Church over several centuries (it was formally abolished in 1966).  The author Alexandre Dumas appears on this list (although I’m not sure that The Count of Monte Cristo was specifically banned; according to this source, it was only his “love stories” that were prohibited to Catholics, and I don’t know if Monte Cristo is traditionally considered as one of his romances).

I have also discovered that Monte Cristo is a book that is commonly abridged.  To me, this is quite different from censorship.  An abridgement, if well done, can be a useful tool in making an important work and its ideas more palatable to a wider audience, such as children or people who are not great readers (like Elizabeth Bennet. ha!).  If someone says that he has read The Count of Monte Cristo, I will not call him a liar if he says he read the abridged version.  That said, I almost always prefer the unabridged version, just as I like to read things in the language in which they were written, or watch anime with subtitles.  The copy of Monte Cristo I am reading on my Kindle was borrowed through my local library; it is published by digireads.com and I can’t find any info one way or another as to its completeness.  I guess I don’t mind either way, but I do feel that abridged version of books should be clearly labeled.