Banned Books From Harriet the Spy to The Catcher in the Rye

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Arguments For and Against Banning Books

Banned Books

From Harriet the Spy to The Catcher in the Rye

by Borgna Brunner

Many people think that book banning is something that only happened in the past. But in 2009 alone, 460 attempts to ban books were made! Probably the most famous books banned in recent years were the Harry Potter and Twilight series. The reason given for censoring the phenomenally popular and seemingly harmless novels was that they promoted "unchristian magic."

What is a Banned Book?

A banned book is one that has been censored by an authority—a government, a library, or a school system. A book that has been banned is actually removed from a library or school system.

Why Are Books Banned?

As the American Library Association notes, books are usually banned "with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information." Adults often censor books from children if they feel that the books have frightening or controversial ideas in them. In some cases, those censoring books think that a book might be appropriate for older children, but just not younger ones—a book that might be perfectly fine for a ninth grader may be disturbing or confusing to a fourth grader.

Not everyone agrees on which books should be banned. The Harry Potter books are a good example of this: some think they are wonderfully imaginative books that have done much to encourage kids to read; others, who think the Potter books should be banned, think they are a bad and corrupting influence on kids.

Freedom of Speech and Expression

The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees our right to free speech, which includes the right to read and write books that might be considered by some to be too violent, hateful, or offensive. Because this freedom is one of our fundamental rights as Americans, some people feel that any form of censorship is wrong. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, believing that people should be free to read whatever they choose, but that in some rare instances censorship is acceptable.

According to the ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano, "Not every book is right for every person, but providing a wide range of reading choices is vital for learning, exploration, and imagination. The abilities to read, speak, think, and express ourselves freely are core American values."

Some people feel that schools, libraries, and governments should be the judge of what books are good for kids. Others believe that kids or their parents should have the freedom to decide for themselves, and shouldn't have others' viewpoints imposed on them.

Why Do Schools Ban Books? –

Not all books are useful in schools. There are some books that are banned because these are not appropriate for school children and students. Here are some reasons why schools ban books:

Some books are banned because they are thought to be racist. A very good example of this is “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” which uses the word “nigger” which is a racial insult. Another book is “Winnie the Pooh.” Because of piglet, Muslim countries don’t allow this to be read by children because pigs are considered dirty for Muslims.

Some books portray sexual scenes, profanity, and prostitution. There are words that are vulgar which are not appropriate for the public especially for children. Examples of these books are “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Lord of the Flies.”

There are also books that do not show good values, such as, disrespect and using the Lord’s name in vain. Examples of these books are “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Of Mice and Men.” The use of witchcraft and fantasy can also confuse children. This is the reason why “Harry Potter” is also banned in some schools.

There are books which are inappropriate for children because of too much violence and portrayal of indecent events. Since the children are not yet ready for this kind of scenario, reading this book will also cause them to be more curious. There are also books that show societal problems, such as, crime, drugs use, and prostitution. These books are only appropriate for open-minded readers who can take in different views and situations in the society. For children, they are not yet ready to absorb these kinds of information because they are too young to understand these problems. There are also history books that attack a country especially when the article is about war. This type of information usually degrades the integrity and reputation of a certain nation. That’s why some of these books are censored.

Judy Bloom Talks About Censorship

When I began to write, thirty years ago, I didn't know if anyone would publish my books, but I wasn't afraid to write them. I was lucky. I found an editor and publisher who were willing to take a chance. They encouraged me. I was never told what I couldn't write. I felt only that I had to write the most honest books I could. It never occurred to me, at the time, that what I was writing was controversial. Much of it grew out of my own feelings and concerns when I was young.

Communism? There were few challenges to my books then, although I remember the night a woman phoned, asking if I had written Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. When I replied that I had, she called me a Communist and slammed down the phone. I never did figure out if she equated Communism with menstruation or religion, the two major concerns in 12 year old Margaret's life.

But in 1980, the censors crawled out of the woodwork, seemingly overnight, organized and determined. Not only would they decide what their children could read, but what all children could read. Challenges to books quadrupled within months, and we'll never know how many teachers, school librarians and principals quietly removed books to avoid trouble.

Fear. I believe that censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children's lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don't read about it, their children won't know about it. And if they don't know about it, it won't happen.

Today, it's not only language and sexuality (the usual reasons given for banning my books) that will land a book on the censors' hit list. It's Satanism, New Age-ism and a hundred other isms, some of which would make you laugh if the implications weren't so serious. Books that make kids laugh often come under suspicion; so do books that encourage kids to think, or question authority; books that don't hit the reader over the head with moral lessons are considered dangerous.

Ideas. Censors don't want children exposed to ideas different from their own. If every individual with an agenda had his/her way, the shelves in the school library would be close to empty. I wish the censors could read the letters kids write.

Dear Judy,

I don't know where I stand in the world. I don't know who I am.
That's why I read, to find myself.
Elizabeth, age 13

But it's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.

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