Banned Books Week 2011

I don't know what to write about today for Banned Books week so I'll just share the essay I wrote in my english class last semester. It's long so be prepared if you want to read it. And yes it is terrifying for me to post something I wrote on here, but as it's Banned Books week I wanted to do something and this was the only thing I could think of. There are spoilers for Harry Potter, even though most of the people I know probably already read the books/seen the movies. Yes, I do defend Twilight too because (even though I wasn't a fan) I can admit that it doesn't need to be banned either. Enjoy!

You walk into a library hoping to check out some books. Want to read Harry Potter? You will have to look somewhere else for that one. How about a paranormal romance? Even a book as popular asTwilight cannot be found. What about a classic? No one would dare take a classic out of your hands.Of Mice and Men, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill A Mockingbird have all been challenged. Parents are trying to take them out of public libraries and school libraries. Some of these books are being banned for sex, violence, language, and religious context; but they are also required reading for many public high schools. Parents think they are protecting students by taking books away, but they are really doing more harm than good. If a student goes to a public high school, chances are he/she knows enough about sex to make their parents blush. They probably also heard enough foul language to shame a sailor.

There are many assumptions about certain books/genres so it is easier to lump books together and say they are all bad instead of actually reading them. Books with Vampires, Witches, and Werewolves are “obviously” bad and they promote Satanism and the occult so they must be taken away from people. Even books with children as main characters are getting attacked because people confuse imagination with the occult. Realistic fiction books are under fire as well because sometimes young children in the story die or adults find them too graphic for their kids to handle. These books also hold some of the best messages, but students are not discovering them because of the ignorance of others.

Harry Potter is the name if the most popular children’s book series in the world. Of course it is also one of the most challenged series too. The story is of the orphaned little boy, Harry Potter, who is abused by his aunt, uncle and cousin. He finds out he is a wizard and gets sent to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He faces many struggles as he explores this new, magical world. With his best friends, Ron and Hermione, he learns about love, hate, friendship, honor, and bravery. He also promotes Witchcraft and Satanism. At least that is what some of the attackers say. Journalist Pat Scales explains, “The Harry Potter books remain troublesome to some adults, especially the Christian right. They object to any book that challenges their ‘Christian views’ and believe that children who are exposed to witches and wizards may be tempted to engage in ‘evil’ activities themselves”. Religion is all about choice. Each person can choose to worship God, many gods, Buddha, etc. In Harry Potter’s world there is no choice. A person is either born a witch or a wizard and they must take these powers and use them for good or evil. The funny thing about the religious people attacking the series is at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series, Harry dies and comes back to life in order to save humanity from the evil Lord Voldemort. This parallels to the story who died and rose again to protect humanity from sin. Interesting since J.K. Rowling is allegedly trying so hard to push Witchcraft onto America’s children. Some people have even gone so far as to say Satan is using Rowling without her knowledge so she is not really at fault for the popularity of her books (“Religious right”). This series is a children’s fantasy series. If kids figure out the underlying message in the stories, love always beats out hate, then great. If not, that is fine too. Harry Potter was meant to be enjoyed for what it is-a fantasy series to take people out of the harsh reality and into a world where good always overcomes evil. Another book many readers have fallen in love with is Twilight. It, too, has been challenged for its content.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer has recently caught the attention of many. It follows the life of a teenage girl, Bella Swan, as she moves in with her dad in Forks, Washington. While she is there, she meets the alluring Edward Cullen and they fall in love. Little does she know he and his family are all Vampires. This series takes readers on a journey through the romance of a girl and her Vampire. One of the reasons why this series has gotten negative attention is the graphic sexual content. Anyone who has read this book can go ahead and laugh at how silly this is. Yes, the Twilight series is a paranormal romance series so there is male/female interaction, but there is no sex until Breaking Dawn, book four. Even then, Bella and Edward do not have sex until they are married, and the sex is more implied. It is certainly not graphic in any sense. Meyer has also been dealing with issues in Australia as her books have been pulled off library shelves there. Students have even been asked to leave their personal copies at home when they go to school. (Doyle 7). Meyer does not get down to the nitty gritty and write graphic sex scenes. Authors of all kinds can get their books challenged. From realistic fiction to fantasy, the attacks will not let up.

Ellen Hopkins writes raw books about the ugly side of reality. Her books are brutally honest as she writes about sex, abuse, religion, and drugs. One book, Identical, caught a lot of unwanted attention because pop-sensation Miley Cyrus tweeted about what a great book it is. Identical is the story of twin sisters, Kaeleigh and Raeanne. Kaeleigh suffers from constant sexual abuse from her father. She will always misunderstand love and affection. Raeanne craves her father’s love. When she cannot get it, she seeks the company of older males to quell her desires. A book like this obviously was not popular with the parents of the 10-13 year old girls who look up to Miley. This is just one instance where Hopkins has been judged for her books. She was scheduled to speak at a local high school in Humble, Texas as part of the Teen Lit Fest. A middle school teacher decided Hopkins’ books were inappropriate for the students so she asked that Hopkins be removed from the list of authors attending the festival. She wrote a response to the incident on her blog where she talks about how the superintendent was rude and tried to make excuses as for why she was uninvited. He even claimed there was no contract made so Hopkins was not actually invited (Bernfeld). Hopkins responded by saying,

“I am not just another author. I’m an author who is a voice for a generation that faces real problems every day. An author who tries to dissect those problems, look for reasons, suggest solutions, show outcomes to choices through characters who walk off the page. I’m an author who cares about her readership in a very real way. I am thoughtful, respectful of my readers, and not afraid to tell the truth.”

In a way of showing support readers and authors sent e-mails to the people behind the festival. Some other authors who were scheduled to speak at the festival also backed out as a way of supporting Hopkins (Bernfeld). All of this heat caused the cancellation of the festival.

Another author who had to face the wrath of parents for the content of her books is Judy Blume. Blume is a well known children’s author, so when people read Forever it was not well-received.Forever is about the sexual experiences of a teenage girl. This book is pretty graphic. The assumption seems to be that Blume is only allowed to write children’s books and has no business writing young adult books filled with sex. No parent can get upset at an author for writing a book. If someone putsForever with Blume’s other books without reading or researching the book themselves then they are at fault if it reaches the hands of children. What are we teaching some of these children though? Blume refers to a letter she got from a 9-year-old kid in which she was referred to as “Jewdy” and she said she was unnerved by the amount of hate that was in it. Blume also thinks parents do not know how to approach sexuality because it makes them uncomfortable. She also believes this is the reason why parents do not approach the topic with their children (Foerstel 105).

Phillip Pullman is yet another author who has had to face the same accusations as J.K. Rowling, but for slightly different reasons. Pullman writes the popular His Dark Materials series, and the books are banned for religious context as well as references to drugs and alcohol (Pilkington). Sounds a lot likeHarry Potter, right? The difference is in one of Pullman’s books he “kills” God. This would be an understandable concern if Pullman’s books were realistic fiction, but they are fantasy. This brings up the issue of whether kids are able to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Plus, if the people who are against this book really knew anything about God they would not be worried about an author killing him in a fantasy novel. It would take quite a lot more than a pen and paper to kill the master of all creation. Or the problem is Pullman’s religious views, because is against organized religion (Pilkington). Not everyone in the world has the same religious beliefs. Even if everyone did believe in God they do not all like him. No one can change this. While this is not a problem younger children should have to deal with, it is pretty much guaranteed that by the time a student enters high school he/she will have encountered at least one person with different religious beliefs.

Some books are not just getting banned. They are getting changed altogether. Alan Gribben took it upon himself to edit the word “nigger” out of Mark Twain’s novels. That is not a pretty word, but the time Twain wrote those books was not a pretty time. Gribben claims to be doing this to protect the books from any future attacks (cite). While his intentions may be good, it looks as if he is trying to pretend like no one ever used that phrasing. No one can rewrite the past, but that appears to be exactly what Gribben is trying to do. Joan DelFattore, an English professor, talks of her own experiences with racism and how it made her uncomfortable, but even she thinks that such issues are important for students to learn. “In, reality, being required to confront difficult, embarrassing and controversial matters and to learn how to deal with them does not constitute a hostile learning environment. It constitutes education.” She goes on to say that keeping students from such issues in classrooms does nothing to protect them from the world where these issues still remain.

Religious context, sex, and language are just a few of the reasons why books are banned. Books should not be banned from schools or libraries just because a handful of parents do not agree with them. If one parent does not want their child to read a story for whatever reason then fine, but they should read the book for themselves first. If they do not like to read or if they do not have the time then they should do a little research. It will not take long for someone to find a decent review on books like Harry Potter, Twilight, and classics. There are reviews and in-depth discussions all over the place. There is no reason for a parent to force books out of the hands of others just because they think their children cannot comprehend the meaning of the books. Can books be harmful to young minds? Yes, but not necessarily because of the content. Parents should be there to guide their kids through these stories. The issues these books present should be explored by readers with guidance from their parents. Many books are meant to help people deal with real-life situations, but some adults do not understand this so they try to get rid of good books.

Works Cited

Bernfeld, Linda Rodriguez. “Author finds no censorship at Miami International Book Fair”.

Community Newspapers.

DelFattore, Joan. “Huck Finn, Hostile? Hardly.” Chornicle of Higher Education. 13 February 2011.

Doyle, Robert P. “Books Challenged or Banned in 2009-2010.” PDF file.

Foerstel, Herbert N. Banned in the U.S.A. Wesport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Gribben, Alan. "Trouble on the raft: defending an 'other' Huck Finn." Publishers Weekly 258.3

(2011): 52. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 2 Mar. 2011.

Hopkins, Ellen. “Censorship Bites”. Livejournal. n.p. 10 August 2010. Web. 21 February 2011.

Pilkington, Ed. “Children’s writer Phillip Pullman ranked second on US banned books list”. Guardian, 30 September 2009.

"Religious right groups take aim at popular `Harry Potter' books. (People & Events)." Church &

State 54.11 (2001): 18.