Why ban books?

It always seems incredible to me that people ban books–or try to. Books are THE safest way I can think of to learn something. They can provide so much–comfort, inspiration, moments of happiness and joy. A break from painful experiences or lives, a way to understand more about people and the world. They can help people learn, dream, grow, think, and feel. They can help people learn compassion for others, or learn about experiences and cultures they’ve never had or seen. Don’t like what a book says, or feel threatened by the content? Just close the book. And above all, if you live near a library, you get to choose your own reading material. You get to choose what speaks to you, what you need or want.

But people work to ban books all the time. I don’t understand how that can happen.

Why aren’t those people putting their energy into something that would actually make a difference–stopping violence, helping the environment, helping abused kids get safe, saving endangered animals? And what about the right of other people to read those books that others are trying to ban?

The one hopeful thing I get out of a book being banned or challenged is that this usually results in the book becoming more widely known, and that book’s sales increasing. It makes me laugh happily.

All sorts of wonderful books have been banned or challenged, including children’s and teen books: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling; And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman; The Color Purple by Alice Walker; The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky–and so many more.

When you start reading some of the ridiculous reasons people challenged books, it becomes almost humorous: In 1986, a parent in New Jersey objected to William Steig’s The Amazing Bone on the basis that one of the animal characters uses tobacco; Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are has been challenged for involving “witchcraft/supernatural elements”; and Judy Blume’s Blubber has been challenged repeatedly because of the book’s language and the lack of consequences for the characters that torment a fifth-grade classmate. Yet Blubber takes you into the mind and emotion of the girl being tormented, and makes it clear how painful that experience is.

And to me, most telling of all, in Alabama in 1995, The Rabbits’ Wedding was challenged because the illustrations showed an “interracial” rabbit couple in which “the buck was black and the doe was white,” and in 1992 Heather Has Two Mommies was challenged (and continues to be challenged) because it “promotes a dangerous and ungodly life-style” which “decay[s] the minds of children.” To me, this indicates that book banning occurs because of close-minded, bigoted people who want to enforce their way of thinking on others. I still don’t get why these people don’t try to ban movies and TV shows that are so much more full of things these people are afraid of–sexuality, lesbian/gay people, interracial couples, etc. Perhaps books are more thoughtful. Or perhaps they’re just easier to ban, since movies have lots of money behind them.

What do you think?

For a thoughtful and inspiring article on challenged children’s books and how to deal with this, read John Trelease’s article Religion, Harry Potter, and the Taliban. Trelease has many other thoughtful, engaging articles on the subject.

Go here to read some of the reasons children’s books have been challenged.

Check out Librarian Mom’s post about a parent who wanted to label all the children’s books with “disturbing images”–though, as Librarian Mom points out, something that’s disturbing to one person isn’t necessarily to another.

You can see the most frequently challenged children’s and YA books at the ALA site.

Support the First Amendment, Read a Banned Book

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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6 Responses to Why ban books?

  1. The Ms. S says:

    I absolutely disagree with banning books.
    If the book is without merit or appeal, it either won’t get published, or if it is, nobody will want to buy it. The market decides for itself. And that means I decide for myself, nobody else.

  2. Cheryl says:

    I agree, Ms S. I like that we can decide for ourselves–by choosing not to buy a book, or read it….

  3. injera says:

    Oh, I can’t believe “The Rabbits’ Wedding was banned! I love that book. It just shows how limiting the banning of books is – I’m dead against it.

    Love your site – always something interesting…

  4. Cheryl says:

    Injera, I agree that banning books is limiting. And yeah, when it’s a book you love, it’s hard to believe someone could ban it.

    Thank you for letting me know you like my site; I really appreciate hearing that.

  5. Anne W. says:

    My 12yr old daughter is writing a paper for her english class on book censorship. You have excellent resources, we thank you. She is shocked at the “narrow minded silliness” she has learned about in doing her research. We have read almost all of the children’s books in your link above. I think we would have missed some great times were it not for those books.

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