I went to a very small school from 1st through 12th grade. We had somewhere around 400 students in all the grades combined. We also had a shared library. The books were in an L shape and the elementary and middle school students had an area, and the high school students had an area. And as Kipling said, “never the twain shall meet.”
As a 7th grader, I was NOT allowed on the high school side. And I certainly could not check out a book from that area. So when I pulled one that had caught my eye several times and confidently took it to the circulation desk, I knew, really, that I wouldn’t get away with it. However, I was told that if I had a parent note, I could check out that book.
HA! At home that night, I just mentioned that there was a book that I wanted to check out and I couldn’t. Sympathy at home? Nah…something more resembling a quiet fury. If they had been looking at me, they probably would have seen a small, sneaky smile. Note in hand, the next day I got my prize: John Steinbeck‘s East of Eden. The librarian had held it for me, knowing I’d get the note. That magical piece of paper, written and signed by my dad, said I could read anything I wanted to check out. Handing it over, she told me that I was going to love that book. And I did. I still do.
John Steinbeck is still one of my favorite authors, even when so many high school students find his books boring…I was allowed to choose it. It was some forbidden fruit and I could have it. Yum!
My love of reading had obviously developed long before then, but that led me to more than a love of Steinbeck and literature. It led me to a realization that my parents trusted me to make good decisions. They trusted my judgment. They allowed me to choose for myself. And they never once went back on that. They never once questioned any book I read. Ever. Did I read things I was too young to understand? Probably. Did I read things that many found inappropriate? Absolutely. Was I warped from this? Not one bit.Was my brain corrupted? No. Did I turn into an immoral, unethical, spiritually damaged adult? Certainly not. Did I go to college extremely well-read? Yes. I did. Did it help me? No doubt!
Avid readers read for the story and the nuances, not for foul language or erotic scenes. Honestly, I generally gloss over all of that. Only if the foul language is in every other sentence do I notice. And I tend to agree with John Grisham on that…If that is the case, the writer doesn’t have a great grasp on language.
I just think that if you like to read, you should read. Anything. Everything. If you don’t like to read, it’s because you are reading the wrong things. And yes, reading the newspaper is reading. Reading blogs is reading. Reading comic books/graphic novels is reading. Just find what interests you and read about it.
As for the note that my parents sent to school, not only did they trust me, but they also saw the value in reading and how much a person can learn from reading. Never once did they ever imply that a book was inappropriate for me or anyone else, for that matter. Challenge a book? Never! Just because it isn’t right for one or two people, doesn’t mean that it isn’t right for anyone.
I have since thanked my parents for that note and for allowing me to read whatever I liked. There is no real way to tell them just how thankful I am and how much it means to me now.
As an adult, when Harry Potter first came out, I wanted to know what all the fuss and fury was about. Ten pages in I was hooked. I started reading it because it was a little more of that “forbidden fruit.” Yum again. Personally, I think some of the fire around that book was fanned by the publishers for this very reason. Call me cynical.
I do not think that all books on the Banned/Challenged list are put there by overzealous publishers looking for hype. However, if you have a little publicity going your way and you know you have something that bad publicity will not destroy, you should probably use it to your advantage. After all, bad publicity certainly worked for HP!
All of this being said, I was shocked to find out later in life that there are people who seem to get their life’s thrills from working to ban books from everyone just because they do not approve. Go figure! Why don’t we just burn them all and be done with it. Let’s just be a completely uncultured, uneducated society. Heck, let’s go live with the wolves after that!
You may be surprised to see some of the books on the Banned/Challenged lists. The list below is the Top 50 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000-2009: (The full list is 100, click the link to see the rest.)
1. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series) by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
16. Forever by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing by Robie Harris
38. Arming America by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground by Avi
43. Blubber by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby: The First Graphic Novel by George Beard and Harold Hutchins, the creators of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
48. Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Are there any books on this list that surprises you? Which ones? Do you read anything and everything? Have you ever wanted to challenge a book? If so, which one and why? I’d love to know.