Even though I had a post-it note on my calendar for the last three weeks reminding me what last week was, I completely forgot to write about. Last week was Banned Books Week hosted by the ALA (American Library Association) which an annual event to call attention to the list of books that have been banned and/or challenged in the past, as well as reminding us all of first amendment rights.
Even though the national events took place last week, I still think this is an important topic to discuss. I don’t believe in censoring art and literature is art. I also think that those people who are attempting to ban or censor books haven’t considered everything that is important about that piece.
Let’s talk about one book in particular: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. This novel is contested constantly and usually for one main reason. True, the novel contains a lot of offensive language—particularly the “n word.” Now, why I can see why this book in particular is offensive, it is incredibly reflective of the time period in which it was written. To ban it is to simply pretend that one specific time period in U.S. history just didn’t happen.
For the people who challenge books for this kind of “questionable” content, I have to wonder about a few things. First, are they taking into account the kind of lessons you can teach about these pieces? For Huckleberry Finn in particular, I would love to teach my own children about the past where words like that were acceptable and common and how we have changed.
Secondly, are they challenging the books without reading them? I know this to be the case. We had an incident at one of the schools I taught at where a parent “heard from their child” about the content of the book and challenged it. Without reading it. How is that teaching your child responsibility?
Thirdly, by challenging a book you might be succeeding in preventing many others from reading it. Instead, take an active role in what your child is reading by knowing what they are reading. If you personally have an issue with something, then explain why to your child.
As I continue reading through my own list of books, I have to keep in the back of my mind that many of things I am reading were once considered quite scandalous, but as time as passed on, they have lost that shock value. Just as I am sure that many of the current books being challenged (Harry Potter anyone?) will also fade in offensiveness as time goes on.
For your own personal pleasure I am leaving with a few links. One links to a list of classics that have been challenged sometime in their existence. I am also linking to the ALA’s site on banned books so you can learn for yourself. I encourage everyone to read a “banned book” and see for yourself whether it is right to censor such art.
ALA Website on Banned Books: