Thursday, October 02, 2008

Talking About Books

There is a lot of talk this week around the blogosphere about Banned Books Week.

I think most rational people can agree that banning books is bad. When a government controls - in any way - the information available to it's people - it's a bad thing.

As far as I know, in this country, we do not have an issue of government censorship of books.

Most often then, when people talk about Banned Books, they are referring to books that individuals or groups of individuals have requested be removed from libraries.

Quite rightly this raises a concern. One person, or even a small group of people, should not regulate what other people have access to. Just because someone disagrees with a book shouldn't mean that I don't get to read it. I have my own opinions about things and deserve the right to make my own judgments. As does everyone else.

Now - quite often it seems - that books are being challenged not in the public library - but in a school library. And while it also holds true for children that they should be entitled to make their own decisions about things - not all books are appropriate for all children all the time. Has a book with sexually explicit themes found its way onto a K-5 library? If so, is it wrong for someone to request the book be removed - as long as it is still available in the older grades? (I have great respect for school librarians and all librarians for that matter, and think they do a great job of keeping their collections geared to the appropriate level, so I think this would be a very rare occurrence.)

Which brings me to my last point. Often on these lists of banned books are books that have been challenged - and henceforth removed from a 'required reading list'. I'm going to go out on a limb here - but telling someone you don't 'have' to read it is not the same as telling someone they 'may not' read it. It's not banning a book. The book is still available for people to read. It's still available for those students to read. They are just not required to do so.

Perhaps I feel strongly about this because last year, in fifth grade, my daughter had two novels (of many) she read for her advance language arts class that were clearly more appropriate for upper middle school or high school students. Both of the books labeled by Publisher's Weekly for ages 12 and up.

Now these students were reading at a more advanced level, it's true, but they were still only fifth graders with fifth grade sensibilities. And I think the teacher did them a disservice by including those books as part of her curriculum.

If, in two years when my son is in the same class, those books are still part of the curriculum, I may very well question their inclusion. There are hundreds of wonderful books that advanced readers in fifth grade could enjoy - why burden them with stories that include rape, and murder?

So will I be among the book banners if I challenge these two books*? I would never say the children may not read them. I would never say they should be unavailable to them. I would say, I don't think you should make them read these books. Not at this age.

Book banning is serious. It's horrible. It is a way of keeping people ignorant. But by including books that have been "challenged" and removed from "required reading lists" on the list of "banned books" I think people do the issue a disservice, they water down the issue.

And that is my rant for today.

*and no, I won't identify the two books.


PJ Hoover said...

Will you email me the names? Please :)
This is a great post, Chris! You hit the nail right on the head.

Christine M said...

Thanks PJ.
And I sent you the titles.

Sarah Rettger said...

Me too?

I'm curious - how did Pippi react to those two books? Did she understand the rape and murder scenes?

What's age-appropriate is always difficult for me, because I read a lot of "adult" stuff when I was still in the single-digits.

The year I was in third grade, I devoured Gone With the Wind, Scarlett, and Nicholas and Alexandra. But I understood them on an eight-year-old/nine-year-old level, so things like the almost-rape scene in GWTW and the sex scenes in Scarlett went mostly over my head.

Those were all (obviously) books I picked up on my own, though, not something I was assigned in class. (Although I did use GWTW/Scarlett for some writing assignments. Kind of curious what my teacher thought of that...)

Christine M said...

Sarah - yes, I'll send them to you.

Pippi did not like either of those books - which is why I was aware of the situation. Actually, they quite bothered her.

And I agree - kids can take in all kinds of things at different levels. One of the problems when you are dealing with a more advanced book in class is that some of those things that can go over your head when reading on your own - you need to write essays on or discuss or delve deeper into

I think those were the kind of things she wasn't ready for

Anne K said...

Right on! I agree with you, Chris.

beth said...

Fantastic post! You make really good points about the validity--and consequences--of book banning.

Sarah Rettger said...

Lisa Chellman raises some similar questions from a librarian perspective today - might be worth a look.

Christine M said...

Sarah - thanks for the link. It was great to get another perspective on the issue.

kkolshorn said...

Very interesting post. I feel sorry for teachers and librarians today. Part of the problem with this whole idea is what is truly age appropriate. This is complicated because socially kids are all over the board. Depending to what a child is exposed, a ten and eleven year old child may well be able to to handle the subject matter on a younger level. I was really exposed to this when my next door neighbor kids came over and discussed things that I didn't think kids their ages knew. I am not totally against books of that subject matter done at the 11 or 12 year old range if tastefully done. After all, how many teachers are you hearing about now sleeping with their 12 and 13 year old students by making the kids think that this is okay behavior. Think if that subject matter was mentioned at an earlier age. It may give some kids the idea that it isn't alright for that to occur. I do think including some of these subjects isn't all that bad of an idea. We unfortunately do not live in the fantasy worlds that are the subject matter of some books. For those who don't think that is should be required, maybe the solution isn't challenging the book per se but challenging the method of including it for all. Maybe book lists could have these books but you choose so many off the list. That was what was done when I was in advanced classes. That way if a socially immature child isn't ready for that subject they can opt out so to speak.

Christine M said...

Kris, I agree that different children can handle different things. Some are exposed to more mature situations at a younger age. For better or for worse. I think it comes down more to the "required" aspect. I draw a distinction between "requiring" and "not allowing".

For a book discussed in class with fifth graders - I don't know that its really necessary to get into difficult social topics - even though some children their age have been exposed.

kkolshorn said...

I understand what you are saying. I am saying something similar. I think the change needs to come from required. You make a list of books that child/child-parent decide is appropriate to read. You can do worksheets that discuss the book in details. That is how it used to be done. That way kids who are ready for more out of the box topics can still think about those, and you aren't creating an uneasiness for those that aren't and they can get the same value out of the things they are ready. It isn't that you don't ever want kids to read it, but the curriculum should be made that if someone isn't ready than they aren't obligated. I think you do find this more in gifted type programs. Since we were taught advanced in every class instead of some we were required to take sex ed in fifth grade. Our peers got one to two years extra before taking it.