Banned Books Week: it’s back
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It’s happened again. In 2009, ‘And Tango Makes Three,’ the heartwarming children’s book about two penguin daddies and their adopted baby penguin Tango -- based on the true story of penguins in Central Park -- was one of the year’s most-challenged books, according to the American Library Association. Once again, unfortunately, we’re celebrating Banned Books Week.
If there is a sense in some quarters that America embraces freedom of expression, there is a sense in others that books present ideas that are dangerous or inappropriate. In 2009, there were 460 challenges reported to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. The top 10 most-challenged books of 2009 were:
1. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs 2. “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson Reasons: Homosexuality 3. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide 4. “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group 5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group 6. “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group 7. “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Jodi Picoult Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence 8. “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group 9. “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group 10. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert CormierReasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
Many of these books are being celebrated this week at libraries and bookstores. So are those that have more recently come under attack, including Sherman Alexie’s National Book Award-winning ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,’ which was banned in Stockton, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s ‘Speak,’ which includes rapes (acts of violence) that have been mischaracterized as sexually provacative pornography.
‘When ‘Speak’ was published, there was some whispering that this was not an appropriate topic for teens. I knew from my personal experience that it was,’ Anderson told School Library Journal. ‘This notion was validated by thousands and thousands of readers who connected with me to thank me for the book. They said it made them feel less alone and gave them the strength to speak up about being sexually assaulted and other painful secrets.’
This is at the core of the matter, the idea that by locking away the words that describe life experiences we might retain a kind of innocence. As if without ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ there might be no racism, or without ‘Catcher in the Rye’ we might forestall the difficult questions of adolescence. This, of course, is hardly the case; these books might, just might, help teach us otherwise.
That is, if we can find them on shelves and read them.
-- Carolyn Kellogg