I’m With the Banned

kidreadingSomewhere out there right now is a child or a teenager or young adult about to pick up a book which will change their lives.

Maybe it will be the book which cements a love of reading. Maybe it will be the book which opens new worlds, or sheds light on something they’re struggling with. Maybe within those covers, within sentence and story, they will find a character who seems familiar; one in whom they can recognize part of themselves. Maybe they will read a scene which will strike a familiar chord, dissonant or not. And maybe–just maybe–because of a book (a book!) that child or teenager or young adult will open a window to a new way of viewing the world.

A book.

Somewhere out there right now is an adult or a school board or a group of parents who want to remove certain books from libraries and book stores and class rooms. Who want certain books banned because they feel the stories they contain are sexually explicit or contain scenes of alcohol use or masturbation or nudity or racism. Sometimes they want them banned because they feel those books promote ideologies different to their own. They feel they are anti-family or promoting an agenda of homosexuality, politically offensive or culturally insensitive.

A book.

Yet…every time you challenge a book because you don’t like the brutality of its truths you are invalidating the experience of someone who has or is experiencing those truths. Every time you challenge a book for inappropriate values you are implying the thousands who are living knee deep in that value system are not worthy. You are insinuating their lives are somehow reduced because they are not “appropriate”. Every time you challenge a book you are telling kids and teens and young adults their stories are not valid or valued. You are telling them they should be silenced and shelved because they don’t fit into some manufactured, imaginary mold.

Yet books continue to be the one place those marginal voices can still be heard, loud and clear.

Thank goodness for books.

We cannot shy away from the bad and the ugly and only focus on the good. We can’t do it in the present and we certainly cannot erase it from the past. Our literary past is just as important as any history book. It’s why Huckleberry Finn is still a meaningful teaching tool more than a century later. It’s why Gone with the Wind, that love song to the Confederacy, is a cultural spring board for conversation. It’s why Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s Americannah is relevant today. Is it uncomfortable to see the n-word in print? I hope so. It should be. Is it uncomfortable reading about the way we enslaved a population? I hope so. Is it uncomfortable reading about how skin color is just as marginalizing as an identifier in today’s US? I hope so.

Trying to ban those books from classrooms and shelves is not going to make the past disappear. It’s not going to change the experiences of those who are going through it every day now. Banning books about teens who are molested, who grow up in dysfunction or poverty or amid drugs and alcohol, sex and violence is not going to erase the very fact that all of those things exist. Painful or not, they exist and there are lives which are defined by them. Lives that just maybe find a modicum of solace in reading they are not alone.

Two boys reading outdoors

Thank goodness for books.

How dare we try to dictate the experiences of others. How dare we force all the squidge and squash into a cookie cutter mold and cry foul when it overflows. We cannot change our pasts, but we can learn from them, we can better ourselves from them. We cannot take all the bad things that happen in the world out of it, but we can shine a light on them. We can let those who recognize themselves in there know they are not alone.

How dare we try to silence them.

Reading a picture book about two male penguins who adopt an egg is not going to make your child gay. Reading a young adult novel about a high school kid who views his life through a filter of alcoholism and poverty is not glorifying alcohol. No, instead those books are saying ‘hey you out there–you who hasn’t led a life of black and white, but of gray–you who doesn’t have typical, Redbook approved family or a perfect life–hey you! Your life counts too!”

Thank goodness for books.

Imagine how the landscape of your own literary history would be different without having read books that have been challenged over the years. The Handmaid’s Tale and The Outsiders, Blubber and Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. In Cold Blood. A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, The Kite Runner, Brave New World. The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, The Color Purple. Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen.

The point is, if people had succeeded, the map of my literature would be completely changed. GWTW, which led to Rebecca which led to Jane Eyre which led to the rest of the library, which opened up the world to me. It never would have happened if a challenge to ban had been successful.

bbw2012-2013_imageThank goodness for books. For the power they contain between their covers. The power to inform, to educate, to include and expand and illustrate and incite; to light a fire under our passions and ultimately to connect us to one another. Sometimes slowly, sometimes painfully, one page at a time.

Thank goodness for books.

September 27 through October 3 is Banned Book Week. Use your Freedom to READ.

American Library Association’s list of the top 100 challenged books from 2000-2009
ALA’s list of the top 100 challenged books from 1990-1999
ALA’s list of the top 10 challenged books from 2014

I shamelessly stole this post’s title from the Robert E. Kennedy Library (and very possibly others.)

And finally….this is W&C(D)’s 300th post! Fitting it should be about books as I’m just about to embark on the 3rd and hopefully final draft of my own before starting to shop it around. Happy reading to all!

12 Comments Add yours

  1. pinklightsabre says:

    Well congratulations on #300, you! Yes, I’ve been thinking along similar lines recently, how it reinforces how much power books and art possess by those tyrants and control freaks who try to ban them…was thinking that about swing music with the Nazis in the 30s, for example. Maybe because it has the power to change people, and tell the truth. Go on with your bad self there, sister.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thanks you kindly. I have to admit, I’m a bit freaked out by the press coverage that the tyrants and control freaks seem to be getting these days. The Tea Party has turned into the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and no one seems to be doing anything about it. I didn’t know about the swing music–but I think any art–written or in song or visual–it does have the power to illicit response. Which can indeed be a dangerous thing–in many different directions.


  2. aviets says:

    I’m with you 100%.. Books have been just about the most influential aspect of my life, and I’m devoted to literacy and sharing books of all sorts. Book banning is abhorrent to me.

    Except…here’s a weird conundrum that I just about can’t stop thinking about: Occasionally I’ll run across a book (either donated to my Little Free Library or to our church, where I work) that I find unacceptable, with the potential to damage the reader. One example: a book masquarading as a light, pleasant mystery novel, but in reality it was espousing the worst kind of misogyny, negative gender stereotypes for women, and ugly fundamentalist-religion thought. I removed it from my LFL and couldn’t bring myself even to donate it to our library’s “book sale” bin. I couldn’t be responsible for the possibility that it might get into someone’s hands and harm them. I actually ended up putting it into the trash. And yet that’s a form of banning books, an act to which I’m absolutely opposed.

    That was several months ago, and I’m still in a quandary about it.


  3. Dina Honour says:

    I can see how that one would bother you. I guess if hard pressed, I would come down on the side on non-censorship/inclusion. There is plenty of inflammatory material out there already. And one has to hope that just as reading a book about 2 male penguins is not going to “turn someone gay”, reading a book about a misogynistic fundamentalist looney isn’t going to turn them into one. Of course, there is always the possibility that someone is going to latch onto that and go full blown with it. And that is the danger we face with freedom. That said, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. (I promise not to tell if you binned the book. No one’s the wiser :-))


  4. Alice says:

    HELLS YEAH. That is all.

    (Oh, and congrats on Lucky Number 300!)

    (And that whole “wrote a book and it’s reaching final draft-to-completion” thing? Congrats on that too!)


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Well…it’s not there yet. And of course the last draft will be the worst, but yes, thank you!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jodene says:

    As a proud book pusher (I teach teachers and my own 3 book lovers at home), I am thrilled by your blog and this fantastic post. I’ve taken books out of the hands of children to avoid serious conflict (books with content that parents would not be happy about given their religious background) and it never felt entirely right but in the moment, the best move for the child and as the child’s teacher, me. Your post certainly gives me pause – who am I to decide what is “offensive”? I waver when it comes to children… and so I will continue to grapple with this and guide people to your blog! Thank you!


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thank you for finding me! I think ultimately when it comes to children and books we do have to use a bit of common sense. I said to someone today, if my 6th grader picked up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I would advise him he’s not ready for a book like that–not because a book like that shouldn’t exist, but because at that age he doesn’t have the life experience to put it into context yet and how is he going to truly enjoy the content if he can’t put it into context? It’s a waste of a good story ;-). I understand a lot of people think they are protecting their children, but in all actuality, they are stopping them from experiencing the lives of others–others who are different–through the written world. Maybe if we were all exposed to differences earlier those difference wouldn’t be so difficult to absorb and assimilate later. Who knows. Ultimately a parent needs to exercise their own judgment when it comes to what a child should or should not read. That said, that judgment goes no further than their own family. Personally I find the story of two male penguins adopting an egg and raising it to be touching and heart-warming, not ‘anti-family’, as those who are threatened by it claim it to be. In the end, isn’t it grand to realize the power of books! In this age when we fear technology taking over our lives–books still have the power to move and shift and yes, even anger. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it!


  6. Given the option of knowledge or anything else, I will always take knowledge. Books are the gateway to nearly everything in life.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      That is a sound option. You are right, they are a gateway, and that is exactly why we shouldn’t limit the ones who get to go through.


  7. Melanie says:

    This should be required reading. Although it would likely face the challenge of overcoming a demand it be banned. This paragraph:

    Yet…every time you challenge a book because you don’t like the brutality of its truths you are invalidating the experience of someone who has or is experiencing those truths. Every time you challenge a book for inappropriate values you are implying the thousands who are living knee deep in that value system are not worthy. You are insinuating their lives are somehow reduced because they are not “appropriate”. Every time you challenge a book you are telling kids and teens and young adults their stories are not valid or valued. You are telling them they should be silenced and shelved because they don’t fit into some manufactured, imaginary mold.

    is the argument to end all arguments for banning books. This paragraph is exactly why banning books is significantly more dangerous than allowing them to remain on the shelf.

    Books should be uncomfortable. Books should challenge us. Books should open our eyes. We cannot travel the world and talk to every human in existence. Books give us this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Honour says:

      You are right. Books should be uncomfortable and challenging. It’s how we recognize our way is not the only way. In theory and hope.

      Liked by 1 person

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