I used to love to sneak into the adult section of the library when I
was in grade school. I lived in a small Michigan town with a very loving yet stern librarian who I remember vividly, Miss Lillian Crawford. She knew my my grandparents, my parents, and probably most of the parents of children who came to the library. My mom dropped me off on Saturdays while she got her hair done, making the library both a source of child care and intellectual stimulation.
Occasionally I drifted from the sections that Miss Crawford deemed appropriate for my young mind into the adult fiction. Ohh, la, la–swearing, sex, and ideas I didn’t understand. Actually, I probably didn’t understand the sex, either. Miss Crawford ratted me out to my mother. I was a super good girl and Mom, fortunately, thought it was amusing that I went astray in such a way. What a rebel!
Forgive me, Miss Crawford
During this week’s discussion and celebration of banned books, I have to say both Mrs. Crawford and my mom were right. There’s nothing wrong with guiding young people in their reading, getting them to read in the first place, and encouraging age-appropriate, quality literature. So, I have some sympathy for parents who worry about the books their children are exposed to in school. But, though it was probably benign neglect rather than liberal thinking, I’d err on my mother’s more permissive side every time. What is reading about if not about challenging old ideas, learning about other people, the wider world, and about ourselves?
One the the most frequently banned authors currently is Sherman Alexie. He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. His stories about life on the reservation are often far from the mainstream portrayal of Native Americans and consequently his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is regularly at the top of the most challenged list. He says on his website, “It means I’m scaring the right people. Hooray! I keep hoping somebody will organize a national boycott against me.”
Banning books is all about fear. Fear of ideas that challenge our religious and world view. Fear of children learning about sex and fear of people whose skin color is different. In an article on Huffington Post, Bonnie Stiles, mother of four students in Meridian, Idaho schools where Alexie’s book was recently banned, said she pushed for its removal from the high school curriculum after reading the book and counting 133 profane or offensive words in its 230 pages. Really, if that’s your worry, you need to ban your children from riding the school bus where that language is freely shared.
Forgive me Mrs. Crawford! But, friends, I encourage you to be a rebel and let your freak flag fly. Read those banned books yourself and, rather than counting swear words, discuss the books with your children. Encourage your book club to join you in reading banned books. Take a look at the ideas and recommendations some of my favorite books bloggers are offering this week: Sheila at Book Journey, Epic Reads, and Banned Books Club. You’ll also find lists of current and classic banned books and this list of banned classics from the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Finally, for inspiration, listen to what Bill Moyers said a couple of years ago.