Happy Banned Books Week!
For those of you who may not know, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read (not the actual banning of books). Here at MPL, we are very much in support of this freedom, and this week we have been celebrating.
Last year (2012), 464 challenges were reported to ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, which is up by more than 100 from 2011. See the ALA website to find out more about which books have been challenged and banned.
In honor of Banned Books Week, I decided to share with you my favorite banned/challenged books:
And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (6 times on the top ten lists, three as number 1 challenge of the year)
Reasons I like it: It is a true story about penguins (who doesn't love penguins?) that take in an abandoned egg. They care for it and raise the baby (Tango) together. They are male penguins, but that is not the point. There are beautiful illustrations, and a section in the back that tells the true story. Such a cute book!
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Reasons for challenges: Offensive language, sexually explicit
Reasons I like it: This is a memoir about the author's not-so-normal childhood. Walls is an amazing author, with great descriptions and imagery. She tells about her rambling childhood, her oddball parents, and the poverty she lived in. Her story is obviously no one's ideal life, but it is her story. Not everybody's story is pretty, so challenging a memoir seems pretty pointless to me.
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Reasons for challenges: Anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitivity, offensive language, occult/satanic, violence
Reasons I like it: Come on! It's The Hunger Games! In case you live under a rock, The Hunger Games is a dystopian novel set in America (now called Panem), but the country is now spread out into districts, each defined by the product they export. The country is run by a corrupt government. In order to prove something, the Capital selects a boy and girl from each district to compete to the death in the Hunger Games. The main character is selected to do so. It is pretty gruesome, but it is an excellent read. Some of the charges against this book are just reaching.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons for challenges: Anti-family, drugs, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age group
Reasons I like it: I loved this book. It was wonderfully written, and Charlie is a loveable, tragic character. True, there are instances of homosexuality (a best friend is gay), offensive language (because they are teenagers), drugs (because they are teenagers), and family problems (because they are teenagers). Sensing a theme? Anyway, because of all these things, Perks is a true coming-of-age story that is realistic and relatable to teens, and shows that a person is capable of overcoming a lot.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Reasons for challenges: Racism
Reasons I like it: It's a classic story, and it's well-written. It is an excellent depiction of the south during the time it takes place, and the book reveals a lot (both good and bad) about the people of the south. There's racism in the book, yes, but it is relevant to the time period and to the story in general. If the book were set today, I would understand the challenges better. Since it is set in a time when the language was commonplace, however, it is more an opportunity to discuss the changes that have taken place since, rather than to dwell on the negativity of the past.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Reasons for challenges: Offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group, violence
Reasons I like it: Again, a classic story. Steinbeck's novels are traditionally short, but they do not shy away from creating memorable, heartbreaking characters. The friendship between George and Lennie is admirable, and it sticks with you. The story is another one that because of the time period and situations, the language is of course not that clean, but it is a very good read.
One of the things that bothers me personally about challenges and bannings of books is that so frequently the negative parts are pulled completely out of context. Yes, there may be undesirable language, but if it is relevant, why is that wrong? And yes, there may be instances of substance abuse, but is it setting a scene? proving a point? establishing a character?
I don't know about you, but when a book is challenged, I kind of want to read it more.
I've said my piece, now you say yours. What's your take on banned books?