This post is what it says on the tin. I attempted to look at some of the most commonly banned books over the ten years or so (found on the american library association website) and pick out a couple of books that I really loved. I wanted to show them for their merit. Now I don’t think that there has been a single book on any of the lists that made me upset or worry for the health and safety of the kids reading them, but my opinion on book banning has already been discussed in detail this week.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was a staple book in my fourth grade life. I loved the whole series. I took them out, one after the other. As soon as one was available in the library I would snatch it up. This should be of no surprise to folks who know me. I have always been a horror fan, even tiny me was drawn to the spooks and the scares. I can understand why some parents would find this book offensive. The images alone were enough to give some kids nightmares. I will also admit that there were particular stories that actually followed me throughout life. I remembered them in the same way that I remember the purple muck monster from the finale of ghost writer. If you watched that show then you know exactly what I mean. I wanted to pull this guy out first because it was so well loved by me. I can’t really talk to the literary merit… it is an interesting collection of fables and folk tales, ghost stories, and warnings. I recently reread the first book as I saw that it was re-released (with far less traumatizing art disappointingly) and while it was a pleasant enough and full of nostalgic pleasure but I’m not sure it actually teaches kids anything. I’m not sure it needs to. It was a book to take home and read and giggle about. It was a book to read aloud to your friends and scare their pants of during sleep overs. It was meant to be fun, and I think that is defense enough. It is a book which is only meant to be fun. It has no motives, no hidden meaning, no message. It simply exists to be consumed and shared.
Speaking of fun: The Adventures of Captain Underpants. Now I will admit, that I only read the first one when I was young. I was very much a tom boy when I was young and I was usually reading the books that the boys in class were reading. At least in public, I did have my fair share of babysitter’s club novels, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s complete works, and Mary Poppins right next to my bed. I remember parents being outraged at this book when I was a child. How on earth could something so crass as a naked super hero who fights toilets and poop monsters be acceptable reading for kids. I agree, the humor was not really for me. I found it a bit gross, the tiny girl in me existed. However, it completely matched the sense of humor of most of those third grade boys. They were all about bathroom humor. Some of them grew up and continued to love it. I have no problem with boys reading fart jokes and honestly the drawing of this young boy wearing nothing but his underpants is anything but provocative. I think the the stigma around it has fallen away a bit. Again, I think the main problem here is that this is a book created entirely to be fun. It is meant to install a joy of reading. You can read books because they talk about poop. Isn’t that silly. Not just for girls with their silly girl things. I wouldn’t take this away from a kid who enjoyed it. Perhaps they will be hooked on stories eventually. What do you think? Too gross, inappropriate, too lascivious. Look at the red cape, oh how dirty.
This is the last book on this list that I read before high school, in fact most of the top banned books are definitely being read in high school, or found in libraries where open access is important (I’m looking at you books about puberty, or sexual education). I would like to point out that this book won the Newberry Award. This book was picked as the best book for young readers the year it was published. Clearly, it has literary merit. It was a book that discussed, friendship, imagination, escapism, abuse, life, death, and growing up. I read it in elementary school, but most of my peers didn’t read it until Middle school. I distinctly remember this book making me cry. Now this wasn’t a shocked and forever scarred type of cry it was the crying of deep empathy and loss. I fell in love with the characters and I cried because they were hurting. Many authors and teachers have lauded how reading helps build empathy. This is true whether you are a child or an adult. The act of reading asks you to willfully suspend your disbelief and follow other people, sometimes literally within their own head. It builds the ability to see yourself in someone else’s point of view. To look at problems from many different perspectives. For children this is extremely important because they are still learning this skill (there are some adults who need a brush up on it as well). This book was profoundly moving and one that I will always love. I have not picked it up to reread yet, but it is on the list. It may be a while before I get to it, because my own mental health has me leaning toward books that don’t tear my heart out and crush it in one blow. The pain is good. It helps you grow. Just know when you are ready for it.
Speaking of incredibly heart breaking books that help build empathy. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the best Young Adult books tackling depression and suicide that I have ever read. A lot of books make depression seem like an unending rain cloud that blinds the person it affects and prevents them from doing anything but sleep. While it definitely can do this from time to time, the protagonist does discuss how he is able to make friends, to fall in love, to have fun. In so many ways he is a normal teenager. Yes, he experiments with drugs and alcohol, yes he experiments with a bit of sex and romance. This is also something you will find in most high schools. This fictional world is very real. Trying to keep it out of schools because of the aspects of teenage life that show up in glimpses is like trying to get rid of roses because they have thorns. Sure, it might be prettier without them, but is it really a rose any more. Those elements add legitimacy to a book that is meant to discuss mental health. The point of the book is for the teens reading it to fall into the head of the protagonist and to understand his motives and emotions. It breaks your heart at the end, but it also helps show how his emotions were real, they were a legitimate disease and not a lifestyle or an emotion. Look at the whole picture. Look at the things this book does exceedingly well. The rest is just costuming and set pieces. Necessary for the presentation of the show.
This book is maybe the pinnacle young adult novel. This is a book found on every single state’s curriculum. It is a must read. Not only is it a brilliant book, and interesting frame narrative, a great book for the discussion of literary tools like imagery, metaphor, unreliable narrators, etc. A book that reduces teenage angst into its most potent and pure form. My own experience with this book was a bit rocky. My class read it after having read three brutal war novels and I just could not take Holden seriously. However, I could recognize why this book is considered a modern classic, why it is a great book and why it was important to read and discuss. Yes, Holden does a bit of drinking, orders himself a prostitute that he has a very civilized conversation with. It discusses what it is like to feel like you aren’t quite right in the head. Like you don’t really fit in. That you are playing a part in your own life. The simultaneous dread and excitement for finally being free of the education system and being free to make your own choices and be your own person. It is an important book. It has a lot to teach. This many professionals do not put a book in such high standing without it having at least a smidge of merit. Again, the few counterpoints that would make this book seem corrupting are besides the point. They are flavor text meant to add depth to the character who is on his own and trying to figure himself out. Again, mental illness is a theme here and the “adult” actions he attempts to participate in, don’t really work out for him. He wishes he could keep everyone safe and young. He feels tainted himself. This is a lesson that anyone who would want to ban should also appreciate.
I may have fallen a bit into English major mode by the end there, but here you have it. Five books that are consistently in the top ten of banned books of the year. I hope you are all having lovely banned books weeks. Are there any banned books you want to pick up this week? Are there any that I didn’t talk about that you think I should have discussed. I didn’t include Harry Potter because I’m not even sure I could form an argument where witchcraft is an acceptable excuse for banning a book, and I didn’t discuss John Green’s Looking for Alaska because I didn’t read it until I was an adult and John Green made a video on the topic that sums up why it shouldn’t be banned already.
Friday, as a change of pace, I have a book review of a book that has not been released yet. It does include witchcraft and spirits as integral parts of the plot. It may be something that some folks request to ban in the future, but you should read my review to hear what I thought of it.