Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Banned Books Week? Splendid!

I've mentioned in previous posts that I love to read.  This love of reading started very young for me, 
Obligatory picture of Kiddo Kim "reading" around age 2.

and it has continued to this day.  In 2012, I read 50 books.  I'm that person that becomes thoroughly engrossed in a book and can't put it down.  I read while cooking, while getting ready for work in the morning and for bed at night (no wonder it takes so long some days!), while I should be cleaning, and definitely while I should be sleeping.

I remember reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the first time in college.  It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years.  I got so engrossed in the last few hundred pages that I couldn't possibly fall asleep.  So I spent the whole night reading and finished the book, crying over Sirius, on the porch while watching the sun rise.

In high school my job was to scan old payroll records into the computer, burn them to CDs, and shred the now useless paper.  At the time, scanning the dot matrix printer paper took about 90 seconds per sheet.  I would read while the computer scanned the page, mark my spot, save the payroll record, put the new sheet on the scanner, and resume my book.  I would walk to the library on my lunch break, usually multiple times a week.  I would spend the walk back to work reading one of my latest finds.  Then at night I would stay up far later than I should, always telling myself "just one more chapter".  It was almost never just one more.

I was lucky to grow up in an environment that encouraged reading.  My parents took us to the library on a nearly weekly basis while we were kids.  In first grade, my mom sent a note to my teacher and the librarian asking that they make sure to send home books that I could read to her instead of books she had to read to me.  They happily obliged, and I discovered my love of Amelia Bedelia and, a few years later, everyone's favorite Stoneybrook, CT teens, The Baby-Sitters Club.

This week is Banned Books Week.  According to the American Library Association's website the purpose of Banned Books Week is to "highlight the value of free and open access to information".  The BBW website is full of lists of books that have been challenged or banned over the years.  You can view lists broken down by decade (going back to 1990) or by year.  They have a list of classics that have been challenged or banned as well.

According to the the lists of 100 most challenged books of 1990-1999 and 2000-2009 (some of which overlap) as well as my somewhat failing memory, I read 27 of those books before graduating high school.  Some of them I read on my own, like the Alice series, while others we read in class.

I distinctly remember reading Bridge to Terabithia 5th grade.  The book had been challenged in our district at some point because of language and the fact that it dealt with death.  In order to continue teaching the book, our teacher had to go through each class copy of the novel and white-out any offensive language.  Each of us had to have signed permission slips to read the book in class.  Parents were encouraged to read the book as well so they could be prepared for questions we might have at home.  My mom checked the book out from the library and read it.  I don't remember having any specific questions for her at home, but I do remember using her uncensored copy to find out what swear words were used before reporting back to my classmates.  Most of them we could figure out from context clues, but we just wanted to be sure.

One of my high school literature teachers did a unit on banned books, though I don't remember if it was during Banned Books Week.  To this day, I still love that in my tiny, conservative town, I had teachers who understood that banning books is a ridiculous concept.  They not only allowed us to read controversial books, they assigned them!  I'm pretty sure that's when I read Slaughterhouse-Five.  We talked about why they had been banned or challenged, and I believe the assignment was far better for us as readers and critical thinkers than had those books been removed from the classroom.

Recently I've been consuming books both the traditional way and also through audiobooks.  I think Audible is a great resource for audiobooks.  I like to listen to them as I fall asleep.  I've made my love of John Green's book The Fault in our Stars abundantly known.  I've also read and loved all his other books, too.  In honor of Banned Books Week I am listening to the audiobook of the 7th Most Challenged Book of 2012, his debut novel, Looking for Alaska.


I find the concept of banning or challenging books fascinating.  So many times books are deemed "inappropriate" for an age group, and that's why they're removed from a classroom or library.  I firmly believe that instead of restricting the access that children have to books, parents should encourage them to read whatever strikes their fancy and be prepared to answer questions about it.  I know that I didn't understand all of Slaughterhouse-Five when I read it.  I had to ask questions.  It may make for uncomfortable conversations, but I honestly think that's worth it.

Though the week's half over, if you want to participate in Banned Books Week, check out the ALA website suggestions.  I would love to know if/how you're choosing to participate, even if it's by reading a book that hasn't been challenged in a school!

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