Monday, October 05, 2009

7 Things: Banned Books Oops!

Yeah, so I totally missed banned books week. But really, the idea's a good one regardless of when you celebrate (um, yeah, that's my story here, I'm trying to lengthen the celebration), so here we go.
1. The number of books challenged or banned in US libraries each year is 500, which I think is plenty since most of these books are pretty innocuous (yes, in my opinion, but we'll get to that) and since many librarians are asked not to reports any challenges received, so as with many things, this is simply the reported number.
2.And Tango Makes Three remains the most challenged. It is a true story about penguins, but since the adult penguins are both male, some people seem to think it is pro-homosexual. In my opinion, it is pro-family since the penguins are raising a child together, and it is not clear if the penguins ever had sexual feelings toward one another. I also feel fairly certain that the book, which I have not read, offers no detail about the penguins' sex lives. But anyhoo.
3. The thing about these challenges and bans is that I understand any parent's choice to have their child not read a book. But these bans or challenges are saying that no child that walks into that library or school should have access to this book and that bothers me.
4. Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy as a group ranks number two this year. Mr. Pullman is suitably pleased. I have only read the first and while I understand that the church hierarchy that is depicted is, well, not very nice, I think that it could lead to some fascinating discussions. (I actually think that about all these books.) I also think that it is interesting that, as far as I am aware, no one ever tries to ban books about evil governments arguing that people might not understand that it is fiction.
5. Lest you think that all of these challenges occur at the elementary level, in one school a challenge was brought concerning eleventh graders who were assigned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The reason given was the racist language used in the book. I read Huck Finn as a fourth grader on my own, and again as a tenth grader and had no problem understanding the context of the language. We discussed it further as a class, including the idea that the story contains an arc as Huck gets to know Jim as a person. (The school did reinstate the book for the eleventh graders.)
6. Religion and sex remain the most common reasons that challenges are brought. I can't decide if that reflects our culture in some way, or if book challenges are one of the things where parents still feel they have some power. In the end I read books about sex and didn't go out and have some just because I had read about it. Again, I am biased as a trained sex educator, but I think parents often don't with to talk to their kids about sex and also hope they never hear about it anywhere else, which simply isn't realistic.
7. Pat Conroy's Beach Music and Prince of Tides were both challenged as books used in an eleventh grade class due to graphic content. I have read both and, first, I am so jealous, I would have enjoyed reading those so much more than Wuthering Heights. Second, yes, sexual and even disturbing things happen in these books. They are messy, they are about flawed people and really, I think they are less disturbing than say, well, Wuthering Heights.
Plus, Romeo and Juliet is about two teenagers who have a secret relationship they keep from their parents. Of course, they die in the end.