The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye- J.D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee
Beloved- Toni Morrison
1984- George Orwell
Their Eyes Were Watching God- Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man- Ralph Ellison
Gone with the Wind- Margaret Mitchell
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain
A Separate Peace- John Knowles
The Chocolate War- Robert Cormier
The Giver- Lois Lowry
A Wrinkle in Time- Madeline L'Engle
Do you know what the above books have in common? Aside from all being classics, they all have been frequently challenged and targeted for removal from libraries.
Just look at the list. Can you imagine American culture, literature classes, and libraries without these texts? I certainly don't want to even think about teaching American literature without discussing Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby or Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, two of my all-time favorite novels.
Thankfully, American society does not leave it up to individuals or to the government to determine what should or should not be published. I will freely admit that my husband and I closely monitor the television that our children watch, the music they listen to, the movies they see, and the books they read. As parents, we strongly feel that we, not some amorphous government body, are responsible for teaching them about the world in bits that are not too advanced or mature for their ages. While I am not going to hand Lois Lowry's The Giver to a third grader, I will readily discuss it, with its setting of a dystopian society which manipulates every aspect of its citizens' lives including their sexual desires with my seventh grade daughter, and in high school she and I will also read and discuss Orwell's 1984, which extends the themes of The Giver. Even though I don't support tweens reading books with sexual themes, I certainly believe that we should value all literature and don't support banning books based on my or anyone else's personal opinion.
As a society, we must be willing to openly discuss issues, not cut each other off without calmly sharing our views. I'll never forget witnessing an audience member's reactions to a performance of To Kill a Mockingbird many years ago. You may remember that Harper Lee's classic novel is set in a racist southern society. When I saw the play, an older gentleman became so unsettled by the racist setting in the beginning of the play that he stormed out of the play loudly saying how inappropriate it was. If the gentleman had only stayed, he would have witnessed the play openly address racism. In other words, we can't jump so quickly to personal conclusions about literature that we fail to see the larger themes embraced by the works. While I do not like Twain's use of the n-word in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I believe that its use in the novel offers an opportunity for readers to ponder the importance of avoiding racially-charged speech.
As Americans, we frequently take our rights for granted. When I taught U.S. History to fifth graders, students were always amazed to learn that many countries do not enjoy the freedoms which are enumerated in our Bill of Rights. Banning books based on a particular person or group's opinion places society on a slippery slope of government intervention and control. While I may not like or agree with some books, music, television shows, or movies, I'd much rather live with them than live in a country which censors its citizens and their freedoms. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in 1906's The Friends of Voltaire, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
September 26th- October 3rd marks Banned Books Week. Celebrate your freedom and our rights as Americans by reading a banned book. For more information about frequently challenged and banned books, check out http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/index.cfm.
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