Sorry for my failure to post yesterday -- I thought I would have time to blog despite my packed schedule, but I had less time than I expected, and I didn't want to rush the topic.
This week is BANNED BOOKS WEEK.
The American Library Association has released its list of the top ten most frequently challenged books for 2008, and I have to say that I was particularly saddened by the appearance of two of the books on the list. Go read the list, then come back, and we'll discuss.
Okay. So, what did you think? Have you read any of them? (Perhaps the one that's been on the NY Times bestseller list for a couple years?) I've read four, and the two that I'm going to mention here are on my wish list for my 2.5-year-old daughter. They were on my must-buy list before I realized someone else wanted to ban them.
And Tango Makes Three is the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins from the Central Park Zoo who successfully hatched an egg and raised a baby female penguin together -- that would be the titular Tango. (Sadly, after 6 years together, Roy and Silo broke up in 2005.) As a former New Yorker, I was always going to buy this book. It went on my own wish list years before I even had a kid. (I am also a guaranteed customer for books about NYC hawks or NYC polar bears.) This book has been the #1 challenged book on the ALA's list since the book was released.
Uncle Bobby's Wedding is a story about a little girl guinea pig who is worried that her favorite uncle will treat her differently after he gets married. I cannot tell you how much I love this little book. It expresses a young child’s concerns about family relationships and change. It stresses the power of love to encompass both old and new. The fact that Chloe will be getting two uncles instead of an uncle and an aunt is pretty much incidental to the story, and it makes me so amazingly happy to see that in a kid's book (instead of a story that talks about how different such a thing might be, not that there's anything wrong with it.)
Someone wants to ban Uncle Bobby's Wedding? Dammit! It breaks my heart to think that there are people out there -- other parents, probably, according to this pie chart showing Challenges by Initiator -- trying to make sure that my kid doesn't have the opportunity to read this book, when in fact I am constantly on the lookout for books exactly like this one: books that CASUALLY show a little bit of diversity. (Similarly, I am always on the lookout for books that CASUALLY show strong women. Not, oh, wow, here's the one princess in a million who doesn't need a prince to rescue her, isn't that so rare and amazing, because it shouldn't be rare, okay?)
If I didn't live in a liberal town that puts these books in the front of the display, if I didn't have enough money to own a computer and be able to buy books online, these sweet and wonderful books might not be available to me or my daughter. This saddened me more than the idea that Huck Finn was on the top ten most challenged list for 2007, because I always kind of assumed that all challenges to that classic are going to fail. But... the more I read on the ALA website, the horrified I'm becoming. Check out the ALA's list of banned or challenged classics and the reasons for the challenges -- To Kill A Mockingbird was banned from the Lindale,Tex. advanced placement English reading list in 1996 because the book "conflicted with the values of the community." What values might those be, if you please?
I joined the library committee for my daughter's preschool last month, because I love books and I want to make sure that the best books are always available to my daughter. And I am now going to send a big fat donation to a public library. I practically lived in the NYC public libraries growing up, and this week is as good as any to give a little back. I'm also going to go pay full price for those two books, new, right now, instead of waiting for a used copy to become available.
QUESTIONS FOR YOU:
Is there any situation in which you think banning books is appropriate? This is not a trick question, I promise. Nathan Bransford took a poll about whether children's books should have content ratings, and 38% said it's a good idea, so obviously there are plenty of people who don't want their kids reading certain books at a certain age. But how do we collectively decide what is available, and where? Is there anyone you would trust to decide which books should be banned from your community library or public schools? Who?