Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Three Children's Novels That Have Been Banned or Challenged: Banned Books Week

My book group meets tonight, and our theme for September is to read a book that was either challenged or banned in the United States. Challenged means someone tried to have a book removed from a library or a school curriculum  because they objected to subject matter or felt the book was inappropriate for children or young adults. It doesn't mean the book was removed. Banned, of course, means the book was successfully removed from a library (or libraries) or a school curriculum. Unfortunately, this continues to happen regularly. Spending my adult life working in a bookstore, and now a library, I am a HUGE advocate for no censorship regarding reading material. 

I don't have children; however, if I did, I would certainly not limit their reading. If I was even slightly worried that they wanted to read something that they might not be emotionally ready for, or have trouble understanding, I would want to read it with them, or read it before they did--and have a conversation! I can tell you from my experience, denying a child a book only makes them want to read it more, and by golly they will find a way. I bought a Stephen King novel in my teens(!) with my babysitting money, and my Mom found it and took it away. It simply disappeared one day. I found it later hidden in her "secret" drawer, where she put everything she didn't want us to have. I also tried to buy the novel Endless Love--remember the movie with Brooke Shields?! Yes, I bought  that book. My mom caught me, and made me return it to B. Dalton's before we even left the store. I was soooooo angry. I vowed then and there to never, ever do that to my future children. Oh, it still makes me mad to think about it, all these years later. 

So, for my group, I was going to read Their Eyes Were Watching God. Unfortunately, I started too late, and can't give the book the time and attention it deserves. I'm still going to read it, but not for tonight's group. Instead, I looked at lists of challenged/banned books for children, and picked three--and off to B&N I went to buy them and read them on my day off. Here's a quick review of the three I chose:

I love Mary Downing Hahn. I wish she had been writing when I was a child. Her books usually involve ghosts and unsolved mysteries. This one was different-it's about two friends who find a dead body in a creek, and how they figure out who may have murdered the man. Published in 1990, it has been challenged over the years. It has themes that explore murder, drugs, and gun violence. I thought the friendship between Matt and Parker, and Parker's determination to save his mother from the bad men (and stay true to his instincts) far outweighed the other issues. I'd say it would be a good novel to read with your child, and answer any questions. It does seem a bit tame, compared with what we see, read, and hear every day in 2019. 

I've wanted to read this novel for years! Finally did. Loved it. The Watsons are a loving family living in Flint, Michigan in 1963. Byron, the oldest son, is a bit of a troublemaker--always making bad choices. His parents decide to return to Alabama for a visit, and to leave Byron there with Grandma for the summer, in hopes that her no nonsense attitude will mature Byron. His father also wants Byron to get a taste of what it's like to be a black man in 1963 Alabama, and to see the challenges and issues he will face coming of age in a turbulent America. This is a loving family, seen from the eyes of Kenny, the younger son. Full of humor, love, and hope, I loved this novel. I'm guessing people had issues with the content, the bullying the occurs to Kenny at school and by his brother, and the terrible scenes of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on September 15, 1963 that killed four young girls. A wonderful book that should be read and discussed with children. 

What??  Scary Stories was banned or challenged?  Yep. It still shows up on lists! I read the first of three, and now it's a movie. I've even read a few reviews that said it was more frightening than It 2. Huh? 

This trio of scary stories by Alvin Schwartz has been around for years and years-first published in 1981. It says something to the popularity of the scary tales that it remains so popular with kids. Filled with short tales and poems, accompanied by super chilling illustrations by the incomparable Stephen Gammell, I have to admit, some of these tales are gruesome and a little creepy--especially if you're sitting around a campfire on a chilly Fall evening. However, they are just the kind of stories sure to thrill! I'm guessing it's regularly challenged due to some of the tales being a bit gruesome. Just the kind of book I would have loved to read as a kid! 

These are the three books I'll be discussing tonight with my group. Each quite different than the other two, but all on lists of books that have been challenged or banned over the years. You can find lots of information, including the most challenged books of 2018, at bannedbooksweek.org.  Goodreads also has lists of books banned or challenged by year. 

Make it a point to read books that are controversial. Discuss them with peers, or if your children want to read something that you're not quite comfortable with, do yourself a favor and read it with your child, or read it before your child does-and have a conversation with them about the book. Be open and honest with your kids. 


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