In September of 1939 you couldn’t find Steinbeck’s iconic The Grapes of Wrath on public library shelves in Kern County California (it had been banned by the county board of supervisors). And The Grapes of Wrath is just one of many books now considered “classics” that has come under attack over the years (Call of the Wild or Lord of the Rings anyone?). In 2010, 2008, 2007 and 2006 the most frequently challenged book in America was a picture book — And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell – about two (male) Penguin’s at the Central Park Aoo who are given a chance to hatch an egg that needs a home and do an admirable job (based on a true story).
Now I have NO PROBLEM with people deciding that THEY won’t read a particular book, whatever their reasons (plenty of people will doubtless choose to forgo mine). Think Harry Potter promotes witchcraft? Then for heaven’s sake don’t buy it, and walk right past the series on the library shelf. Deciding not to read something because you object to its content isn’t much different, in my opinion, than not picking up a book because you don’t like the genre, or putting a book down mid-read because you just aren’t engaged. It’s called consumer choice.
What I DO object to in the strongest possible terms are people who want to keep me or anyone else from making our own reading decisions. This is sanctimonious hooey! It’s my free time, it’s my library card (or dollar); I don’t want to be told what I can or can’t read with it. And I especially don’t want others attempting to parent my children – which is precisely what they are trying to do when they challenge a book’s inclusion in school or public library. If a card-carrying member (oooo, if they have cards do you think they show little piles of books burning) of the book challenging/banning crew doesn’t want his children to read a particular title then he should make a rule—FOR HIS OWN FAMILY and nobody else’s. Seriously, if you have so little control over your progeny that you need to keep a book off a public shelf to keep it out of Junior’s hands you have a much bigger problem to worry about than whether or not Twilight is going to turn your child into a Mormon.
So how can we support (to quote the American Library Association) “the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and [stress] the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them?” The simplest way I can think of is to read a banned book this week in celebration of the fact that you CAN and mindful of the fact that there was a time and a place when somebody couldn’t. Better still, borrow a banned book from the library with your child and, after he/she has enjoyed it explain that “once upon a time” that book was excluded from the shelves. It is never too early to instill the values of “open access” and open mindedness in the next generation.