Why Banned Books Are the Best Books

Happy Banned Books Week, darlings! This is my favorite literary week of the year. Held during the last week of September (9/21 through 9/27 this year), Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read. Librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, bloggers, and readers share information about the history of book banning and support the freedom to seek out and express ideas, even if they are not popular.

Although the US prides itself on freedom of expression and decries censorship, things can get a little dicey when it comes to school curriculums. Should students be exposed to books that present ideas their parents disagree with or contain themes that are too mature, violent, sexual, etc? These questions crop up every year as parents challenge the material their children are required to read in school.

Banned Books Week
Image credit: ASJA

Earlier this year, Sherman Alexie’s YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was pulled from the curriculum in Idaho schools. Parents objected to its foul language, reference to masturbation, and “anti-Christian” sentiments. This is just one episode out of many in which people try to control the books other people read. Obviously, it’s a problem. It’s one thing to make decisions for your own child; a parent probably has a decent understanding of what his/her kid is ready for, and if a book makes a parent OR student uncomfortable, another option should be open to them. But for a parent to say a book shouldn’t be read by any one else’s children is censorship. It’s arrogant and narrow minded. And in my opinion, the books parents want to ban are the ones students would benefit most from reading.

I can’t speak for Alexie’s novel, but I was furious when parents demanded Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park be removed from a Minnesota school library. They criticized the book’s foul language and sexual themes, calling it “dangerously obscene.” And yet, I think this book would be relatable to many high school students. It features an overweight girl with a tough home life and a boy who wears eyeliner; they’re both misfits, and yet they find the kind of love that most kids their age DREAM of. It shows teens that they can be themselves, and someone will love them. That’s not a thing we should “protect” them from. Sure, Eleanor and Park have some sexy times. SO DO REAL TEENS. Let’s not freak out about it. We know abstinence education doesn’t work. Instead of banning a thing, use it as an opportunity to start a meaningful discussion with your teen.

(P.S., Banning a book only makes kids want to read it more! And they WILL find a way to read it, whether they’re “allowed” to or not.)

Most of my favorite books have been banned or challenged, and that’s not a coincidence. In my opinion, the best books are the ones that challenge our beliefs or make us think about an issue in a different way. They show us perspectives that are different from our own, and that is important. These books have the power to make us more empathetic humans, if we can only come to them with open minds — if we’re willing to listen without judgement.

The books that make us uncomfortable can teach us really valuable things about ourselves and the world around us. Instead of being offended, we should ask ourselves WHY we are having such a visceral reaction. What is our stance on a topic, and where is the author coming from? Can we reconcile our differences in opinion? If yes, wonderful! If not, have we at least learned something new and valuable about the world? Probably.

So open your mind, pick up a banned book, and let it rock your world.

Check back later this week to learn about my favorite banned books — why they’re banned and why they should be read!

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11 thoughts on “Why Banned Books Are the Best Books

  1. Awesome post. It is interesting how my attitude towards banned books has changed as a parent. Let me start by saying that i think banning books is wrong. No question. That being said, i do monitor what my 8 year old reads. She has an over active imagination and gets terrified by many books. A lot of her friends are reading Harry Potter right now. I would love for her to read and enjoy those books, but I’m also pushing her away from them because I know they are going to cause many sleepless nights filled with bad dreams. Maybe in another year she can read them, but for now i’ve moved them to a top shelf.

    • I think monitoring/regulating what your kid reads is part of a parent’s job… it’s trying to limit what OTHER kids read that bothers me. If a parent objects to a book and asks for an alternative assignment for their child, that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s okay for them to ask that none of the other students read it, either.

      (I would not have been ready for the later Harry Potter at age 8 either. I was super lucky to grow up *with* Harry Potter; I was always just the right age for each book as it came out! But I would have had horrible nightmares from book 4 onward if I had been any younger.)

      • My BFF’s little boy LOVES him some HP, but she drew the line at book 4. He has to wait until he’s older to tackle that one,

  2. Happy Banned Books Week to you, too. What annoys me most is that the same parents who object to books for children and teenagers have usually no problem letting their kids watch TV shows that in my opinion are far worse. I guess it’s easier to just have a book removed from the shelves than to sit down and read it so that you can talk about it with your child.

  3. Applause! Yay Leah! I just finished The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (for Banned Books Week, naturally) and it really bugged me that It has been considered so controversial. I fully support any and all books that help teenagers gain understanding of the struggles other cultures face. I was interested to see that this particular book was challenged in a city quite near where the book takes place. Perhaps some of it hit a bit too close to home?

  4. I TOTALLY laughed at “sexy times” because I pictured you saying it in a Borat voice!
    I love this post. My parents didn’t prevent me from reading anything (that I remember – I’m sure they did when I was REALLY young) and I’m so thankful for that.

    • Hah! Can you believe I’ve never seen Borat?
      I don’t think my parents prevented me from reading anything, either. My dad actually (inadvertently) provided me with the book that contained my first sex scene! I was 13 and loved horses, and he thought Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven would be pretty innocent — not so! There was a lot of blushing during my study hall reading.

  5. What I have never understood is why these parents will ban a book for sexual themes and violence, but turn around and allow these same teens to watch sexualized, violent films and listen to sexualized, violent lyrics in songs. COMPLETELY STUPID. I have decided, at any rate, that people who ban books just don’t want to talk to their kids for 5 minutes about something uncomfortable. It is the fact that the BANNERS have a problem with the content, and it has very little to do with their concern for their children. Just my opinion.

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