Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why Ban Books?

School reading lists can be an excellent way to engage students on a number of difficult subjects. But the books on school lists are increasingly coming under fire by parents . . . and for some surprising reasons. ♦

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to grow up without books such as The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, or the Harry Potter series? Well, if some parents, teachers, and neighbors had it their way, then our childhoods may have been very different. Literary censorship is certainly not a new issue, but it seems to become even more of an issue at a particular time of year, as students begin their assigned summer readings. Today it's often parents looking over their children's shoulders, monitoring their reading curriculum, who are the main instigators for book banning.
       Throughout my own school career, I’ve noticed book banning has become more of a hot topic. While reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury in high school, my class discussed Banned Books Week and analyzed the reasons behind the banning of books within school systems. Here are some of the most frequently banned books and the possible reasons for their elimination from school curriculum. These are only seven out of the one hundred books that have been banned in the past ten years . . . some of which you might expect, and others that will almost certainly surprise you.

1. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey

I recall seeing this series in the Scholastic book catalogue, and, after being slightly distracted by the sparkly pens that came with them, I purchased some of the books. Other than the fact that the titular superhero is wearing only his underwear and a cape, there is nothing wrong with this satirical take on superheroes. According to the American Library Association (ALA), parents believe the series is too violent, contains offensive language, and is completely unsuitable for children. Though this fun superhero comic book is aimed at younger children, it is still considered inappropriate for that age group.

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I discovered this wonderful gem during my senior year in high school. This novel resonated so much with me as I was trying to finish the last of my treacherous high school years. It is definitely a coming of age story, and the narrator’s unique voice sets it apart from others of its kind. Unfortunately, there are several reasons that this book is constantly banned: the novel contains drugs, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, and explicit sexuality. Even though these topics are controversial, a lot of what happens in the novel occurs in high schools today. Instead of brushing these issues, and the book, under the carpet, teachers should use the book to help the students navigate these issues in a healthy way.

3. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Go ahead and admit it. We all read this book in middle school. Even some boys at my school read this infamous novel because their girlfriends were so completely obsessed with it! The novel itself is terribly written, but it isn’t something I would deem worthy of book exile. According to the ALA, the novel is banned because of material that offends certain religious viewpoints, and for explicit sexual situations and content. I guess parents thought it was inappropriate for Edward to sparkle without his shirt on.

4. The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins

If you aren’t familiar with this book, you live under a rock! This book has become well-known not just in the United States but across the globe. Although this novel is very popular, younger readers were initially not used to the novel’s violent themes or the level of seriousness that forced them to question social norms or government issues. Also, the violent nature of the novel was in large part what led to the banning. The specific reasons, according to the ALA, are the novel’s contradiction of religious viewpoints and the novel’s unsuitability for the designated age group. Putting these negatives aside, this series began the trend of the apocalyptic-world genre in other YA books. Novels like The Hunger Games encourage young readers to question their choices and what is most important to them.

5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

This novel was probably one of my favorite required summer reading books I ever read because it caused me to rethink some of the things in life that I just accepted. For instance, it made me question my own need for stability and consistency in everyday life. (Plus, Bernard always put a bad taste in mouth, even after rereading the novel many times—seriously, what a jerk!) The novel takes on very serious issues and, according to the ALA, it is commonly banned because of the insensitivity of some character interactions (near the end of the novel when—spoiler!—John is found dead from hanging), as well as for nudity, racism, and explicit sexual situations.

6. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Holden Caulfield was my rebellious icon while growing up; he stuck it to his parents like every 13-year-old dreams of doing. Although the novel was initially written for an adult audience, it contains so many issues that resonate more with young adults (well, maybe not the whole prostitute incident). The ALA says the main reasons for its banning are offensive language, explicit sexual content, and its unsuitability for adolescents. Despite these reasons, this novel is a classic of coming of age. It is about realizing that you are more than just a kid relying on your parents, but a young adult.

7. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

Who hasn’t read this book series? I grew up on Harry Potter, and my love for reading was cultivated by reading these books. But the books’ occult setting and violent themes have caused the series to be repeatedly, and unjustly, banned. Many parents consider the magical world of Hogwarts to be Satanic and therefore inappropriate for young children to read. How is Harry Potter saving the world Satanic? Silly Muggles. Beyond the fun of such a magical world, J.K. Rowling has created a series that teaches kids how to be loyal, kind, and brave. Children need to learn these things, and this series is a great learning tool.

The list could (unfortunately) go on and on. Most of the books on the list are ones that I have read and reread, and without reading some of these, I may have turned out differently. I most certainly would not have been such an avid reader at such a young age. Most of the reasons behind banning a book is its “inappropriate” material, but a great way to show students this material is by teaching them the positives throughout. For example, with Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, teachers can show their students that it is better to express yourself rather than let every stress in life build up and cause you to harm yourself. These books are tools that teachers can use to show their students the realities of life without them being harmed. So rather than banning these books, teachers should utilize them to help students learn in a safe environment—their imagination.
  • About the Author
    Maggie Ark is an avid reader, dedicated writer, and frequent movie-goer. Over the years she has written an abundance of articles for the on-line magazine The Odyssey and is currently working toward a Bachelor's degree in Professional Writing at Miami University. This is her first article for Turning Page and she is extremely excited to continue working with them!

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