I have to admit - I swiped my title from the theme for a very important celebration going on all next week, all across America: Banned Books Week. This year's celebration takes place from September 26 through October 3, 2009, and is the United States' only national celebration of the freedom to read.
Banned Books Week is an event held annually the last week in September, and was first launched in 1982 as a response to a sudden increase in the number of books being challenged in libraries, bookstores, and schools. In fact, more than 1000 books have been challenged since 1982 - in every state. And just in 2008, the American Library Association says, there were about 513 book challenges, though they believe that number to be much higher in reality - since between 70-80% of challenges are never reported.
So, why is a book challenged, banned, or restricted? The reasons vary: too sexual, too violent, use of profanity and slang, or a protest against an offensive portrayal of groups - both racial and religious...more or less, because somehow, in some fashion, the contents of the book will be harmful to the reader. The problem is, when a book is banned, the Reader isn't free to determine that for herself. Because someone else has taken that freedom - that choice - away from her.
Most challenges made are against children's and young adult books, and of course parents and others have a responsibility - as well as a great and burning desire (and rightly so) - to protect and care for their children. And yes, that responsibility and desire does extend to guiding their children's reading choices toward what they are developmentally ready to read. Yet when one person, or a group of people, decide that a book's content is inappropriate - at any developmental level - not only for their own child, but also for everyone else's child, that crosses a line.
Here's something else to consider when looking at what we each decide is appropriate reading material for our own children: Do we decide for our kids what they are allowed to read, for fear of what they will be exposed to? Or, do we raise our children in the best way we know how, and be involved in their lives (but not too involved), and teach them to think for themselves, so that when they choose their own books, we can encourage them to ask questions if they don't understand what they've read, and then have open and meaningful discussions with them about what they encounter in those books, and about how all of that makes them feel, and about how all of that relates to them in their own lives?
It's all about making an informed decision. And if we as adults have done our job well, then our kids will be able to do just that.