Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Banned Books: In the Hand of the Beholder
Welcome to the American Library Association's annual Banned Book week where we celebrate what it means to read in the United States!
In preparing for this post I looked up the 2012 Top Ten Challenged Books and was surprised to discover Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series at the top of the list. With titles like Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy Part 1: The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets (Pt.1) I can't fault people for being skeptical or concerned but given that the first book came out in 1997, I expected a more current title, with more graphic content (as compelling as nasal secretions are, we all know stickier situations exist).
Confession time- this librarian banned Captain Underpants in our home. Back in the day (early 2000's) when I read to my boys every night, I brought home one of the books because I knew they were popular, especially with boys. (Boogers!) I read one chapter and stopped. It wasn't that I minded the potty humor (As the mom of two boys how could I not?) but I hated the way the adults and kids spoke to one another. Neither side had respect for the other and that's what I wanted banned from the house.
Pilkey is a hugely successful author both commercially and critically, his picture book The Paperboy was a Caldecott Honor Book. His books continue to be favorites of school-age readers which shows me that had I been willing to finish reading an entire book of his, I might have read more. You could call what I did censorship, but I'd prefer to call it parenting.
The books that continue to be challenged (like The Hunger Games, To Kill A Mockingbird and most recently Ralph Ellison's classic Invisible Man) are as popular and relevant as ever. Why? It's quite simple- people connect to the characters and story. As a writer it's my job to create characters that readers can relate to and root for. It's the level of connection that creates bestsellers or classics. Captain Underpants makes kids laugh and gets reluctant readers to enjoy, perhaps for the first time, a chapter book. Is that a bad thing?
Books are a form of art and art is subjective, but all art tells a story. Sadly many of the stories about the human condition involve pain, war, death and a host of other upsetting topics. Keep in mind that where there's darkness, light will follow.
Parents should feel comfortable being informed and involved in media choices for their own children. Just remember, the book that offends you might very well be a life-saver for someone else.