This is going to get a bit ranty! I'm truly sorry if I offend anyone, this subject just really gets my blood boiling. Reading is a huge part of my life, an obsession that started when I was a child, and I hate that there are people out there trying to restrict that for others just learning the magic of reading and the new worlds it can open up.
When I look at the list of banned and challenged books out there, I'm truly appalled. I can't understand why people insist on eliminating imagination and personal growth, which is what I see happening here. I remember a time when my mom thought it might be a good idea that I stop reading Harry Potter books because she's Christian, and a certain amount of Christians believe that Harry Potter will teach children to enjoy witchcraft and fall into the "damned" life and Satanic rituals of the Wicca community. This, of course, is ludicrous [in case you're wondering, I did NOT decide to start practicing Satanism after reading Harry Potter and I don't know anyone that did... just putting that out there]. So what if Charlotte's Web features talking animals? I STILL adore talking animals [umm Disney movies anyone?] and I'm certainly not a child anymore. And how is talking animals even harmful to children? I recently did a small amount of research at the ALA (American Library Association) website on what books are banned and what books are consistently challenged, and the truth is that I hope to one day be on that list. These books that have made the list are the best and most classic works of literature known to the world. I haven't heard of anyone not at least remembering the mind-altering (in a good way) implications of To Kill a Mockingbird, and yet it's near the top of the list. This list consists of many other classics like The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, The Color Purple, Ulysses, The Lord of the Flies, 1984, Of Mice and Men, Catch-22, Brave New World, Animal Farm, As I Lay Dying, A Farewell to Arms, Gone with the Wind, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Call of the Wild, The Lord of the Rings, and so many others.
I remember at least reading excerpts of many of these books in school, which means that these naysayers aren't getting the best of society, and most schools and libraries are giving children the privilege to read works of literature as powerful as these. But there are other schools out there that keep a much tighter leash. I still hear people say today that a private Christian education is the best there is, but I don't believe it. When it comes to the books allowed in some Christian schools [trying not to generalize here], I believe that religion limits children's creativity and want to read because of the so-called "right" beliefs of their adult parents, something children already have to work at this day and age. I want to believe that it works like reverse psychology; normally when you tell a child they shouldn't do something, they do it anyway. But it doesn't work that way with books. Most children aren't set on making reading a priority like they would video games or television. This list is limiting the imagination, and I can't think of a worse crime when it comes to education. It scares me how may parents take this list to heart.
But religion doesn't seem to always be a key player, considering the stats below. According to the ALA (American Library Association) website:
Over this recent past decade, 5,099* challenges were reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
1,577 challenges due to "sexually explicit" material;
1,291 challenges due to "offensive language";
989 challenges due to materials deemed "unsuited to age group";
619 challenged due to "violence"' and
361 challenges due to "homosexuality." [Homosexuality? Seriously?]
Further, 274 materials were challenged due to "occult" or "Satanic" themes, an additional 291 were challenged due to their "religious viewpoint," and 119 because they were "anti-family."
Further, the ALA website lists some of the awesome books that have been challenged most in the last decade, many multiple times, and their reasons for being challenged [not in any order]:
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age groupThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age groupThirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age groupTwilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence [haha wait what?]The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: anti-family, drugs, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age groupThe Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age groupHis Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence [these books are rich in Christian mythology]The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Reason: racism [yeah, no s**t there's racism; that's the whole point of the novel]I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Reason: sexually explicit [again, the point]Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling
Reasons: occult/Satanism, violence [this makes me furious!]Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
Reasons: occult/Satanism, offensive language, violence
Have you ever heard the phrase, "Better they hear it at home than on the streets"? Well, better they learn it from a book. At least they can make their own interpretations, and if your children start seeing it as real, then, yes, you should have a talk with them about what fiction is (a talk which, frankly, you should have had with them already). I can't deny that some of these are meant for older children and teens, but don't limit your children based on what some overprotective parents believe is right for everyone's child. Make your decision based on how mature you believe your child is, not on how people mature people want you to believe they are or aren't. As a parent, I plan on taking my kid into the bookstore and have them pick out whatever they want to read [unless it truly is too violent or too sexual for their age; there is a line somewhere that I will personally draw]. Because that's their choice. This is America, land of the Free; it's time to get kids to read and leave behind the video games and television shows once and a while. These banned books have shaped America through the youth, and one day I fear that the written word won't be shaping any young minds.
There will always be a banned books list, and there will always be millions of people reading them anyway.
As a closing, I'll defer to a true authorial inspiration, Ray Bradbury, whose novel Fahrenheit 451[which is about burning books for their content] is a perfect example of what this world could become if we continue limiting the reading scope of our youth [yes, I know these are a bit conflicting, but they're relevant to both sides]:
What do you think about the whole banned books issue? Let me know in the comments!