On Banned Books Week
It’s the end of Banned Books Week but I didn’t want this week to pass without writing down some of my own thoughts about banned books.
I bought a copy of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson last week. It’s probably my 4th or 5th copy of that book. Although I’m sure that I have one in storage somewhere, I knew that I want to reread this powerful book and then pass it on again. In mid-September, a professor at Missouri State University wrote a letter to the editor of his newspaper calling Speak “soft-core pornography” and advocating for its removal from the English curriculum at the public school in his area. What a controversy and movement did he create! It did not take long for the book community to stand alongside Anderson and other authors whose books were also classified as “filth.” Twitter users used the hashtag #speakloudly and a Twitter twibbon to spread the message and support Speak and Anderson. Blog posts appeared in many places and Melanie at the Reclusive Bibliophile compiled them in a post on her blog. More than 400 comments followed Wesley Scroggin’s original letter. And Laurie Halse Anderson wrote her own response.
I personally think that it is incredibly dangerous to ban books from the classroom or the library. It prevents people, both young and old, from being able to make their own decisions about their reading practices. However, it also gives me more fuel for my own beliefs about the role of a teacher or librarian. We have to be reading! We need to be reading what our students are reading! We must have conversations with them about their reading! To leave a reader with no additional support or further conversation is foolish.
This past year, I passed on Anderson’s Speak and Wintergirls to a couple of girls in high school. They are powerful books that deal with subjects that so many of our high school girls encounter. We talked about the content of the book before they read it. I followed up with them while they were reading. And when they finished, they came back not only to return the books but also to ask questions, put their opinions on the table, and to try to articulate what the book made them want to do and say in response. I wouldn’t choose it any other way. Let them struggle with it but let them have a place to talk about it too.
In one of the blog posts that I read in response to #speakloudly (but cannot remember which one for the life of me), a blogger wrote that the copy of Speak at her school had handwriting in the back. Many had written that this had happened to them. That they had stayed quiet. That they hadn’t told anyone. And that blogger decided to write one more thing in that book – the phone number for a crisis hotline. She gave them a place to talk about it.
Someone shared this Google Map on Twitter last week. It’s certainly not all of the Banned or Challenged Books but it does give a sampling of what is happening in libraries and schools around the United States. Click on the map to see which books are being banned or challenged and where.
Read a banned book this week!