Tag Archives: censorship

Banned Book of the Day: The Harry Potter Series

Oh, Harry.  The boy-wizard who sparked a craze.  His magical world of Hogwarts, quidditch, moving pictures and epic battles against He Who Shall Not Be Named captivated young and old alike, triggering a renewed appreciation, perhaps, for the genres of children’s and young adult literature, and spawning a marketing frenzy.

Harry’s popularity, however, came with the dark side of fame as well: the inevitable chorus of those who cried that the book was filled with evil, Satanic forces that would lure helpless children into the darkness.   This is against the Bible, they cried, ignoring the fact that the Bible plays and should play no role (nor should any other religious text, for that matter), in determining the place of Harry Potter on the shelves of publicly funded libraries.

This is absurd. Though I understand that there are parents who would like to prevent their children from learning about what they believe to be occult, demonic forces (not that I agree with their rationale, but I respect that they have a right to raise their kids as they see fit), if parents wish to restrict their children’s access to certain materials, the onus lies on them to do so.

The librarian and the library cannot and should not be the censorship police, restricting access to a book because a particular group feels the book is inappropriate.  How is it fair that all the children in a particular community of classroom be deprived of the chance to read a particular book simply because some find it objectionable?


Banned Book of the Day: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird, the classic work by Harper Lee depicting race relations in a segregated Alabama town in the Great Depression, is a book that routinely makes it onto required reading lists across the country.  The story of standing up for what is right, defending the innocent against allegations made out of bigotry and prejudice is a powerful one. Yet, TKAM is also one of the most contested books out there.

In its brief list of books challenged in 2008-2009, the ALA gives a brief reason for why a book was challenged in a particular county, city, or school.  The one selected to explain the request to remove TKAM from the shelves is as follows:

A resident had objected to the novel’s depiction of how blacks are treated by members of a racist white community in an Alabama town during the Depression. The resident feared the book would upset black children reading it.

The intent is not sinister like many attempts to ban books are, but that doesn’t make the rationale any better.  TKAM depicts the realities of life in the Deep South in terms of race relations.  Blacks were not afforded equal status as whites, they were routinely denied their basic rights, they did live in a world where they could be accused of a crime simply for looking at a white woman the wrong way, and they did suffer.  It’s not a particularly glorious moment of American history, but it did happen.   To call for the removal of such a book now because it depicts a historical moment in American life that does not fit with our ideas of racial tolerance today (however flawed those may be), is absurd.

It is equally absurd that the resident felt concerned that black students reading the book would feel upset by the depiction of black people in the book.  So what? The power of literature is that it provokes feelings within us, both good and bad.  We are still dealing with race issues today, and to my mind, there is absolutely no harm in exposing students to something that might upset them, because it can be turned into a great teaching moment.  Kids might feel compelled to talk about racial injustices they’ve observed in their own lives, they might want to know more about what life used to be like for African-Americans, and they might even take away a reminder about the importance of standing up in the face of bigotry.  None of these are bad things.  They might get none of this from the book, but that does not matter.  What matters is that we should not be deciding to restrict access to books on the off-chance that something in there might offend someone.

Banned Books Week

It’s Banned Books Week! Every year, libraries across America, particularly in schools, come under fire for shelving certain books that are deemed unacceptable for one reason or another.  Sexual content, profanity, witchcraft, promoting “alternative” families  – you name it, it’s been used as a reason to ban a book.

The librarian profession is one that finds the very concept of censorship in any form anathema – after all, if your stated goal is to disseminate information and make it accessible to everyone, how can you support censorship? Obviously, there are grey areas, but to my mind, there is never a good reason to ban a book, particularly not in the name of “protecting the children.”   For starters, if kids want to read something, they’ll find a way, trust me.  Illicit copies handed around a group of friends, the magic of the internet, the public library – if they want to find it, they’ll find it.

Secondly, I think we often underestimate just what kids can and cannot handle.   When I go back and re-read beloved books, I’m struck by themes of darkness that I never picked up on as a child.  The best works of children’s literature are those that incorporate more “grown-up” elements, that don’t condescend to believe that children should be shielded from slightly unpleasant things in life.   I think we do kids a disservice by screening them from things that we feel will be too upsetting – the best way to find out is to expose them to as much as possible and take it from there.  I’m not advocating mindlessly terrorizing your kids, and there’s definitely content out there that’s not age appropriate, but I also don’t see the harm in exposing kids to things that might be a little advanced thematically for them.

To celebrate banned books week, go read a banned book, and do it proudly.  Flaunt your reading of an illicit work of fiction.  For my part, I will do my level best to profile one book a day off the list of the most frequently banned books that I have loved in my time, since class does not leave much time for pleasure reading.

To banned books! Long may they flourish in our lives.