Happy Banned Books Week!
This week always gets me thinking about censorship, free press, and the fear of the advent of a Brave New World or Handmaid’s Tale type of societal control. I was so glad when the DFW Writer’s Workshop decided to donate banned or challenged books to a high school this year. The sad fact is that 33% of high school students and 42% of college students will never read another book after they graduate. Maybe part of the reason for that is they haven’t read books that ignite in them a joy for reading, for whatever reason.
As a teacher, I try to get my students fired up for reading, but in this age of screens as entertainment, it gets harder and harder. So, maybe we should worry less about keeping books out of kids’ hands and more about putting books into them, even if the book that gets them interested in reading might make us uncomfortable.
My donations this year, for the most part, were inspired by both this philosophy and the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign. So here’s my list:
- Our Bodies, Our Selves by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective: Honestly, I was shocked to find this book on the list. A shocking number of women do not understand their own bodies because they were never taught and didn’t ask questions. This is not only an act of societal mysogynism, but also a health risk to women. Anyone who watched the episode of Orange is the New Black, “A Whole other Hole” saw a comedic depiction of a real problem.
- I knew that Geography Club (Brent Hartinger), and Annie on my Mind (Nancy Garden) would be challenged and wasn’t shocked to see them on the list. These are books about LGBTQ teens finding their way in high school. A message that is important in this day an age when we see so many LGBTQ teens contemplating suicide because they feel alone, or bullied. In order to develop tolerance in our kids, they need to learn about all kinds of people. That means all kinds of protagonists in their literature, and kids who identify as LGBTQ need to be able to find protagonists like themselves in their literature.
- I know that Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman) has some of the same objections from the book banners as the above texts. But come on, how could you ban work from such an American poetic treasure?
- Am I Blue (ed. Marion Dan Bauer) is a collection of short stories by LGBTQ authors designed to teach tolerance for LGBTQ individuals to all students, while Revolutionary Voices (ed. Amy Sonnie) is a collection of reflections written by LGBTQ youth of color on their own unique journeys. Again, I feel these are an asset to a high school library, not something that should be put away in shame as if we are shaming the writers and readers as well.
- I know the above selections were a bit “cause-y” and while the causes are important, reading is also fun. So, I ended my donation with: Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned (all by Anne Rice). There is a very simple reason for this. I needed teens to realize that real vampires DON’T SPARKLE. Okay, so it was a different kind of cause...
Banned Books Week is very close to my heart because if we hide or shame a subject matter in a book we are also hiding or shaming people in our society for whom that subject matter is part of their identity, be them people of color (The Invisible Man by Ellison), women (Our Bodies our Selves), alternative sexualities (my above selections) or anything else. So even if you disagree with the book, read it so you can better understand and we can all grow more tolerant. Kids who are taught tolerance don’t become bullies.
Banning books makes our schools less safe.
--Kat Cook, DFWWW member since 2013