Each year the American Library Association, public school boards and other foundations that encourage reading get complaints and challenges to books that are found on their organizations book shelves. For one reason or another, an individual or special interest group feels compelled to bring to the public’s attention books that they deem unworthy of perusing or unfit for publication. At times, this reader may be inclined to agree with some of their choices. However, it is up to each adult to decide what they will or will not read. It is up to each parent to raise their children with the critical thinking skills to know the difference between literature and trash.
Listed below are classic book titles that continue to be challenged; books that particular groups do not want available to the children and teens in their public school system or to be found on the public library shelves. How many of the following classics have you read? Are you a rebel? Do you read banned books? If you haven’t read these all-American works of literature, celebrate Banned Books Week by picking up a couple of them at your local library.
“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain has been challenged since a year after it was first published in 1884. Claims against it being a fit book to rid include its use of the N-word, promotion of racism and for being oppressive. Unfortunately, most readers during the author’s lifetime and today fail to recognize the work for what it is. Twain wrote the novel during the Reconstruction Period, but set the story in the south prior to the Civil War. Twain was writing an expose’ of what he saw happening around him. He was attempting to show that not much had changed. Most all of Twain’s writing is some form of satire or commentary on society. This book is no different.
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger is challenged for its obscenity, lack of morality and blasphemous main character of Holden Caulfield. First published in 1951, the classic has been on and off of high school required reading lists ever since. Most of those who object to the book have stated that other impressionable minds will read about Holden’s miserable life and want to emulate him. Sadly, most teens are already experiencing the angst and disgust with their life before ever being introduced to Salinger’s bad boy.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee was published in 1960 and is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. However, the story about a widowed lawyer raising his two children, Scout and Jem, in Macon, Georgia is just too intense for some. Accused of promoting white supremacy, gender stereotypes and degrading behavior, it was even made into an Oscar-winning movie starring Gregory Peck. Sadly, those who feel the book is racist and unfit for reading, have likely never read it. To step into the thoughts and lives of Scout and her family is to learn it is exactly the opposite of what its detractors claim it to be.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou is one of the most-challenged books because of its sexual content and was first introduced to the public in 1969. It is the semi-autobiographical tale of the author’s life from ages 3-17 and includes her rape as an eight-year-old. It has also been challenged for being anti-white. Although the story is one of despair, violence and is often graphic in portraying these themes, a question to those who seek to ban it begs to be asked. Is there any other way to depict the rape of an eight-year-old child by an adult than graphically?
“The Giver” by Lois Lowry could be considered the newbie on this list of challenged books; it was first published in 1993. The story of a future dystopian society in which all emotion and color has been removed is hardly the stuff of fairy tales. However, it’s themes of a society controlled by euthanasia, rigid social roles and an elimination of individuality is hardly a reason to ban it from library shelves. Just as Twain was making comments on the society he observed during his lifetime, Lowry has done the same. Do those that object to the story of Jonas, Lily, Gabriel, Fiona and the others really believe the author is in favor of this kind of society?
There will always be something with which to find fault. The books we value as a society speak to the values and morals of a given generation. And while this reader believes there are books that are not worthy of publication based on a variety of factors, it is up to individuals – or parents for their children – to decide what they will read. One is perfectly free to object to books, movies and other aspects of society. However, much more is accomplished through discussion and thought than by simply refusing to allow a book to be found on a library shelf.