30 September 2008

happy banned books week!

It is Banned Books Week once again, in which the American Library Association encourages people to Celebrate the Freedom to Read, and reminds America how important the right to free speech is. I'm personally a big supporter of free speech, and I like to use the lists of challenged books published by the ALA to find new books to read, because those which people seek to ban are often the most interesting and thought-provoking.

Here's the ALA's list of the most frequently challenged books of 2007, and the reasons why they were challenged:

1) “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2) The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3) “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4) “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5) “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

6) “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

7) "TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8) "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9) “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10) "The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Sadly, I've only read half of these (1, 2, 4, 6, 8), and my kids have only read one (which I wrote about not too long ago). Looks like I have some reading to do! The link above also notes that Toni Morrison (one of my favorite contemporary authors) is off the list this year, after previously having two of her books featured. Too bad! Maybe she'd better write another controversial book.

Incidentally, it was very recently that I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for the first time, and I found it to be a very moving and beautifully written book that I would recommend to anyone. The "sexually explicit content" (which, by the way, is not portrayed in a positive way) is one of the defining moments of Angelou's youth. Should she have ignored writing about something that affected her so deeply, that changed her in a very real way, that surely plenty of young girls can identify with, to avoid offending someone who's not satisfied to simply put down the book and walk away? That's what good literature is about in the first place: affecting the reader.

It really baffles me that some people decide that if they don't want to read a book, or want their children to read a book, that no one else should be allowed to read that book. I think literature is a great tool to use in learning to understand and process the world around us and the issues people face. It's hard for me to understand a point of view that would seek to prevent others from thinking and learning and challenging themselves.

Just for fun, here are some more links about challenged books from the ALA:
The Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century
The Top Ten Challenged Authors from 1990-2004
The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 1990-2000

I'm pleasantly surprised to see a handful of books on that third list that were taught or read aloud in my elementary and high schools.

Some of my favorites on these lists I'd also count as some of my favorite books of all time. The Harry Potter series, Bridge to Terabithia, House of the Spirits, A Wrinkle in Time, The Handmaid's Tale, Julie of the Wolves, Roald Dahl's books, Toni Morrison's books, The Giver, and Slaughterhouse Five are all excellent books that I've enjoyed. Some of them I loved as a child, and have found as an adult that they're still just as good (for example, I re-read Bridge to Terabithia a few months ago after finding a copy at a used bookstore, and I sobbed every bit as much at 26 as I did at 11).

So what are your favorite challenged books?

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