BBW: The Surprise Banned Book

Anita Silvey likes to give the same presentation for her book Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. She asks the audience to submit the title of what book they’ve learned the most from. I usually say Madeline. Other times, it’s The Giver.

Like Jonas, I learned the importance of love, the nature of love, the dignity and value of personhood. More importantly, I learned that adults can be massively wrong and the right thing to do is to challenge their ways and that not every ending is tied up in a happy, clear bow. It was the first book to upset me, and I love it fiercely.But I had no idea what could cause it to be banned. There was no foul language. Jonas and The Giver are clearly good and what the fauxtopia does is clearly bad. Maybe if the narrator explained how the pregnant girls got pregnant (since men are chemically neutered at the onset of puberty), then I could see it possibly having a content issue. But that story hole was not filled.

So why is it banned? The appalling topics of euthanasia, pill-popping (to suppress normal sexual urges), and apparently for being lewd. Uh, conservatives…it can’t go both ways.Or you were never a teenage boy nor lived with one nor read about human development and hormones. Some argue that Lowry didn’t go far enough. I think those people don’t give kids enough credit.

Here’s the thing if you read Lowry’s book and have half a brain, you get that readers are supposed to find these societal behaviors as appalling! Children will hear about these topics on the nightly news, read about them on the Internet, and encounter much worse in video games. But that’s all at home.

The underlying issue of this week is that people don’t want certain books talked about at school. School is a place of learning, but not of real life, apparently. How many parents (including the ones who challenge books) actually have conversations with their children about the good and the bad of the human experience? Do they have the vocabulary and structure with which to inspire independent thought and discernment about the topics?  How are children supposed to learn to think critically if they’re never given anything that demands a critique!

If the only problem with these books is that they’re talked about at school, then parents need to seriously question whether they want their children reading the books outside of any context with no adult guidance and then not come to you because they’re afraid you will punish them for reading that “bad” book instead of getting a loving conversation. Because that’s what happens. Kids will get exposed to bad stuff…don’t you want to be there, and if you can’t, a trained professional – like a teacher?

Here’s what should happen: At the beginning of the year, teachers send out the curriculum outlining the books the kids will read, what’s in them, and WHY they’re reading them. Parents will be strongly encouraged to read the books ahead of time or as a family during the unit. Parents shall be allowed to ask for a substitute book for their children only after having proven that they’ve read the book (and not just because Fox News said so) AND have personally selected a suitable alternative (to be judged by the teacher) that fits the curriculum for that unit. Too much work, you say, parent? Well, that’s your job. Who knows – you might learn something.

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