Today is the last day of Banned Books Week, an event sponsored each year by the American Library Association to draw attention to the issue of intellectual freedom and especially to the freedom of one to choose what one will read. I can't let the week pass without making note of it here.
Each year the ALA publishes a list of the books that have had the most challenges during the past year. A "challenge" just means that someone tried to have the book removed from library shelves or made unobtainable by certain groups of people. The ten most challenged books of 2010 and the reasons for their challenges are an interesting mixture. This is not the first year that some of the books have appeared on this list.
1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell: This is a perennial favorite of those who want to ban books - the story of a same-sex penguin couple and their son. It was challenged because of homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuitability for its age group.
2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie: It was objected to because of what was deemed offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicitness, violence, and unsuitability for its age group.
3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Challenged due to insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexual explicitness.
4. Crank by Ellen Hopkins: It was objected to for its portrayal of drug use, offensive language, and sexual explicitness.
5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Someone thought it was unsuited to its age group, violent, and sexually explicit.
6. Lush by Natasha Friend: Drug use, unsuitability for age group, offensive language, and sexual explicitness were the complaints about this book.
7. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones: Complaints included sexism, sexual explicitness, and unsuitability for age group.
8. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich: This journalistic expose' of the effect of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act on the working poor of America was objected to because it had drug use, was "inaccurate", had offensive language, had a political viewpoint which some people didn't approve of, and had a a religious viewpoint that certain people found offensive.
9. Revolutionary Voices by Amy Sonnie: Objected to for its portrayal of homosexuality and sexual explicitness.
10. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer: Challenged because of it violence and its religious viewpoint.
Well, at least there was no Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird on the list this year. Most of the books on the list are for children or young adults, and while one can certainly empathize with a parent's desire to protect a child from ideas which s/he may not understand or which may be upsetting, I would strongly suggest that banning a book or keeping it out of the child's hands is not the way to do that. Better to let the child read whatever interests him/her and then discuss it with him/her. Open communication is the best way both to protect a child from being upset and to help the child open up his/her mind to other ideas and possibilities and ways of approaching life.
I was particularly interested to see that Nickel and Dimed made the top ten. This book was a damning expose' of how difficult it is for the working poor to get by in America and how the laws that we make often make it even harder for them. So some people thought it was "inaccurate" and didn't like its "political viewpoint." Gee, I wonder who those people could have been?
Thank you to the librarians of the world who guard the portals of intellectual freedom for us all. Let us support them in their work and honor their endeavors by reading more books. Most especially, let's read some of those books that someone doesn't want us to read!