Tag Archives: banning

Reprise: Homophones, Nazi Cows and Other Banned Books Dangers

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I wrote this post two years ago for Banned Books Week 2009, and I’m re-posting it this week to kick off Banned Books Week 2011. There are some really extreme ideas out there about what censorship means, so I share this post in the hope of illuminating a moderate view. Later this week I plan to write more on the subject. Enjoy!

~Nikki

speak your mind

It’s a little funny at first, the whole concept of reading banned books. I mean, it feels dangerous, right? It feels like you’re doing something you shouldn’t, peeking at something you have no business seeing.

Until somebody explains to you that Little House on the Prairie has been banned. Or The Giving Tree. Or Alice in Wonderland. Or The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

ACLU Freedom ConcertThen it just seems plain ridiculous.

I think my students recognized this yesterday when I introduced the concept of Banned Books Week to them.

Their first reaction was confusion, since they thought I was telling them Harry Potter is a “band” book (oh, the joy of homophones).

Their second reaction, after I showed them the PTA meeting clip from Field of Dreams (“Step outside, you Nazi cow!”), was laughter mixed with a tinge of uncertainty. After all, aren’t banned books banned for a reason?

Their third reaction, when I showed them the covers of the children’s books I mentioned above, was a collective gasp. 

“Wait a second,” that gasp clearly said. “Something’s not right.”

Read Banned BooksIt seems to me that this is exactly what Banned Books Week is all about: showing people what censorship really looks like.

The trouble is, of course, that it’s complicated.

Does my freedom to have books available at the library impinge on your right not to walk into something offensive? If I want my children to read the picture book And Tango Makes Three, does having it on the library shelves endanger your children by exposure to the idea of gay adoption?

I live in a conservative community. I can’t pretend that I don’t understand that side of it. We all want to protect our children. But a lot of people don’t see it the way I do: that there are books and ideas out there that can save our children–except that if those books are banned, the children and the books might never meet.

For example, Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Twisted was challenged in at least two school districts this past month. She shared with blog readers the letter she was sending to those superintendents, and it included excerpts from letters she’s received from teen readers who were thinking of committing suicide–one who had even attempted it twice–and decided against it after reading Twisted.

So, yeah–I meant it literally when I say that books can save.

One of the comments in class last night that I really appreciated was that the way things should work is that parents should be in tune enough to their kids that they can communicate about every issue openly, whether suicidal feelings or gay adoption or racist terms in To Kill a Mockingbird. But too often children and teens can’t turn to their parents about the things troubling them, and it falls to a perceptive librarian or teacher to choose a book off a shelf and hand it to that student and say, “Here. Try this. See if this helps.”I read banned books.

That’s what I’m fighting for this week. I’m fighting for the right to have the right book on the shelf when the right reader needs it.

At the same time, I believe that parents should still have a say–for their own children.

In high school I did many alternate assignments in the library while my history or English classes watched R-rated movies, because my parents and I decided that movie rating was inappropriate for our family. We didn’t try to dictate, however, that the other students shouldn’t watch Braveheart either.

After discussing it as a class last night, it was great to see how a little bit of information helped open minds about the topic of banning books. That’s my hope for this blog post and this week, too: that a little bit of information will help stop censorship from removing books that are on the shelves for a reason.

Freadom

*                    *                    *

On a side note, I once heard from some librarians at our university library that there is a case of certain books they keep locked away.

“Whoa!” I thought. “Those must be the really dangerous books.”

Nope.

As it turned out, they were books that had been locked away for their own safety.

It was the readers who were dangerous to the books. Writing over offensive words with a permanent marker. Ripping out offensive pages. Shredding whole novels.

So the librarians locked the books away to keep them safe from the efforts of censors, and you had to get special permission to check them out.

Interesting, huh?

The Role of the Book Surgeon

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*WARNING! The books in these photos have been dismembered, meaning the images may appear graphic and disturbing to bibliophiles everywhere.*

This feels like a confession–like, “Hi, my name is Nikki, and my child rips books.”

The death toll at our house has been high this past month.  It seemed like every other day I would walk into the boys’ room to find a new victim lying in pieces on the floor.  One day it was a massacre: two Eric Carle books, The Napping House, and a Mercer Meyer Little Critter had been attacked, two of them with their pages severed from their spines.

dismembered frog

We scolded and did what we could, but at one point the two-year-old laughed maniacally when we discovered his grim handiwork, and I had to lay down the unthinkable punishment:

“No more taking books to bed. No more books for you.”

I banned my kid from books. Only a week or so after Banned Books Week! Oh the irony and the hypocricy of that.

It’s funny how being faced with book mutilation is one of the mom roles you never hear about.  I’ve heard about cleaning up vomit and potty-training accidents, about being chauffeur and cook and housekeeper and laundress, about kissing owies and administering band-aids and hugs.  But I’ve often wondered if I’m the only mom carefully gluing and taping library books back together with surgeon-like precision, and handing them back to a librarian saying, “I’m sorry. I really am. Maybe I shouldn’t let my kids come here. Maybe our library card should be withdrawn. Maybe you should be saying, ‘No more books for you guys.'”

I was actually relieved to see this tweet from a fellow book-loving mom, @mawbooks:

Ugh. My kids somehow made it home with a pop-up book from the library. They should never be trusted w/ pop-ups. One piece gone already. 5:45 PM Oct 12th

I guess other people go through this too!

tape and glue

But I want my kids to have books! I want the library to be as familiar to them as a second home. I want them to take books to bed and stay up late reading. And maybe it’s silly, but I sort of believe you have to start them on that road when they’re babies, and then you have to endure the toddler years with tape and glue stick in hand.

So today I’m counting my blessings.

1.So far, he’s stayed away from the adult books, so none of the wounded have been novels.

2. As long as I’m careful to line up which side the ripe goes on, the pictures generally come back together again, even if they resemble Frankenstein’s monster a bit.

bad line-up

Rips have a right side and a wrong side, if you ever wondered.

good goldfish

Line the rips up just right, and you can hardly tell! (sort of)

3. For the most part, in the cases where we couldn’t find every single ripped piece, the holes have thankfully been on the outer edges or else on unimportant end pages.

outer edge

"I see a mule deer" right through the page! There's its nose!

end page

Almost wonder why I even bothered taping the rest of this page back together.

4. None of the books ripped lately have been library books, so the holes you see above are our problem, nobody else’s.

5. Both boys LOVE going to the library, sitting on a bean bag, and bringing me books to read to them.

Is the well-being and overall appearance of our picture book collection worth the literacy of our boys? For a bibliophile, it’s a tough choice, but I’m going with yes. It’s important to have the books in the house and to give the kids access to the books.

And the two-year-old is no longer grounded. I still find books all over his bed that’s he’s taken for reading during nap time, but thankfully they are still whole after the nap. The number of casualties has dropped for now. Maybe we’re safe again . . . until we have more kids.

Any scary damaged books stories to share? Does your collection of kids’ books look as bad as ours?

Leave a comment!

Literary Merit

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TwistedThis blog of mine isn’t about reviewing books, but about questioning the way we read, write, and teach. And not questioning in the sense of finding fault, necessarily, but in the sense of exploration.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I read for Banned Books Week: Laurie Halse Anderson’s 2007 novel Twisted.

On her blog, she gave an update on the challenge in Kentucky, saying that now instead of the book being objected to by parents on the basis of content, it’s being objected to by the superintendent on the basis of literary merit. The class trying to use the book is an AP literature course and so, according to the superintendent, should only be reading books that would be taught in college.

Wow.

Does anyone else have a hard time wrapping their head around that? I mean, I took an adolescent literature class in college where our “assigned” reading was 30 young adult lit books of our choice. That was the semester I finally got around to reading the Harry Potter series, thanks to that teacher. I think I also read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. So, if they teach young adult lit in college, wouldn’t that mean any YA book would qualify to be taught in an AP class?

And here’s my other thought: Does a book have to be hard to understand in order to be college-level and have literary merit?

Literary merit, to me, is that it shows a side of humanity I might not have considered before and does it in a way that opens my mind to new ideas and new tolerance of people.

This book does that.

I was blown away by how real this protagonist and his family felt. His father is referred to as a grade-A jerk, and yet the reader can tell that there’s more to him than that. He’s never the stereotypical jerk. He’s a father who doesn’t know how to be a father any more than his son knows how to be a “man.” Their relationship is complex, dipping low to points where the son imagines killing his father and then reversing completely, like when Tyler is up on the roof pulling down Christmas lights and his dad comes up the ladder to hand him pliers and experiences vertigo, and Tyler helps him down one shaky step at a time. Without giving away the ending, all I can say is that I teared up twice.

On a different note, I learned new sympathy for all the teenage guys in the world as I experienced through a book what it’s like to have to hide an erection so often. Yeah, this book is real in that sort of raw, uncensored way, too, which might be part of the reason for the challenges, but it’s also part of what gives it merit. It validates the story and experience of adolescence.

Life isn’t neat and tidy, life is raw and uncensored. And a book that will make teenagers think about life in new complex, complicated ways and reconsider people and themselves through new perspectives is a book that deserves to be read and taught.

[UPDATE: I just read Chris Crowe’s September 2001 article in English Journal called “Young Adult Literature: AP and YA?” which defends thought-provoking YA books as potential references for the open-ended question on the AP test and also points out that AP students dissect complex young adult novels with as much fervor as they do classics, pulling ample meaning from both. I’ve excerpted a bit and provided a link in the Quote of the Moment on the right.]

Homophones, Nazi Cows, and Other Banned Books Dangers

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speak your mind

It’s a little funny at first, the whole concept of reading banned books. I mean, it feels dangerous, right? It feels like you’re doing something you shouldn’t, peeking at something you have no business seeing.

Until somebody explains to you that Little House on the Prairie has been banned. Or The Giving Tree. Or Alice in Wonderland. Or The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.ACLU Freedom Concert

Then it just seems plain ridiculous.

I think my students recognized this yesterday when I introduced the concept of Banned Books Week to them.

Their first reaction was confusion, since they thought I was telling them Harry Potter is a “band” books (oh, the joy of homophones).

Their second reaction, after I showed them the PTA meeting clip from Field of Dreams below (“Step outside, you Nazi cow!”), was laughter mixed with a tinge of uncertainty. After all, aren’t banned books banned for a reason?

Their third reaction, when I showed them the covers of the children’s books I mentioned above, was a collective gasp. 

“Wait a second,” that gasp clearly said. “Something’s not right.”

Read Banned BooksIt seems to me that this is exactly what Banned Books Week is all about: showing people what censorship really looks like.

The trouble is, of course, that it’s complicated.

Does my freedom to have books available at the library impinge on your right not to walk into something offensive? If I want my children to read the picture book And Tango Makes Three, does having it on the library shelves endanger your children by exposure to the idea of gay adoption?

I live in a conservative community. I can’t pretend that I don’t understand that side of it. We all want to protect our children. But a lot of people don’t see it the way I do: that there are books and ideas out there that can save our children–except that if those books are banned, the children and the books might never meet.

For example, Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Twisted was challenged in at least two school districts this past month. She shared with blog readers the letter she was sending to those superintendents, and it included excerpts from letters she’s received from teen readers who were thinking of committing suicide–one who had even attempted it twice–and decided against it after reading Twisted.

So, yeah–I meant it literally when I say that books can save.

One of the comments in class last night that I really appreciated was that the way things should work is that parents should be in tune enough to their kids that they can communicate about every issue openly, whether suicidal feelings or gay adoption or racist terms in To Kill a Mockingbird. But too often children and teens can’t turn to their parents about the things troubling them, and it falls to a perceptive librarian or teacher to choose a book off a shelf and hand it to that student and say, “Here. Try this. See if this helps.”I read banned books.

That’s what I’m fighting for this week. I’m fighting for the right to have the right book on the shelf when the right reader needs it.

At the same time, I believe that parents should still have a say–for their own children.

In high school I did many alternate assignments in the library while my history or English classes watched R-rated movies, because my parents and I decided that movie rating was inappropriate for our family. We didn’t try to dictate, however, that the other students shouldn’t watch Braveheart either.

After discussing it as a class last night, it was great to see how a little bit of information helped open minds about the topic of banning books. That’s my hope for this blog post and this week, too: that a little bit of information will help stop censorship from removing books that are on the shelves for a reason.

Freadom

*                    *                    *

On a side note, I once heard from some librarians at our university library that there is a case of certain books they keep locked away.

“Whoa!” I thought. “Those must be the really dangerous books.”

Nope.

As it turned out, they were books that had been locked away for their own safety.

It was the readers who were dangerous to the books. Writing over offensive words with a permanent marker. Ripping out offensive pages. Shredding whole novels.

So the librarians locked the books away to keep them safe from the efforts of censors, and you had to get special permission to check them out.

Interesting, huh?