Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Books Week: Children's Edition

Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen. (Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.)
- Heinrich Heine

I'm a little late (as usual), but this week (September 26 - October 4) is Banned Books Week, which was one of my favorite weeks when I taught high school English. I used to take great pleasure in surprising my students with the books that have been banned or challenged over the years, and it also led to some very interesting discussions regarding age-appropriateness, parents' rights, and the First Amendment. To celebrate this week, I'm going to be blogging about some of my favorite books that have been banned or challenged. To start us off, here are a few childhood favorites that have met with some controversy over the years:

Laura Ingalls Wilder is not immune to being challenged. Her book was challenged for being "offensive to Indians." Little House in the Big Woods was also challenged for similar reasons. While I can try to see the point of banning the book, it is also a historical document which captures an era of time when relations between Native Americans and white settlers were less than stellar. Quite frankly, I'm more offended by the television series and Michael Landon's complete bastardization of the books than I am by the books themselves.

While the challenging of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl shouldn't be too surprising given some of the more explicit passages, I seriously doubt that anything in the diary is as graphic as what is readily available on the internet or found on network television on a given night. However, the strangest objection to the book was made by four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committe, who deemed the book "a real downer." You can't make this stuff up.

While this wasn't technically part of my childhood, I'm throwing it in anyway. Why? Well, besides being a great book, The Giver was one of the most banned/ challenged books in the U.S. between 2000 - 2007 (at least according to the ALA). Parents have objected to the book's content because it includes infanticide, euthanasia, and violence. However, the best complaint was from one parent who said "This book is negative. I read it. I don't see the academic value in it. Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative." There are no words to fully express how awesomely short-sighted this quote is. I can't help but wonder what students are supposed to be reading. Could they read something that was historical and negative? If not, that takes out quite a few books (almost all of Shakespeare's works, The Things They Carried, The Great Gatsby, etc.).