It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Further Musing on Banned Books

I did a little searching to see if there was a Canadian equivalent of the “Banned Books” list. (In fact, that name is a bit misleading: the books were on the list because they were challenged; many (some? most? all?) of those books may not ever have been actually banned.)

The Canadian list I found was much more informative: not only the titles and authors were cited, but the reason for the challenge and, when available, its outcome.

I discovered that it was very rare for the challenge to result in the book being withdrawn from the class, store, or library. (This is good!)

I discovered that many books were challenged by a single person. Hmmm…

You know, if one wing-nut writes a letter of outrage to a bookstore owner, I don’t really think he or she constitutes a serious threat to literary freedom. There’s a very industrious fellow in my town who, every weekend morning, distributes hundreds of sheets of paper, closely filled with WARNING TO GOVERNMENT LEADERS AND HEADS OF STATE AROUND THE WORLD… RECENT MEETINGS EXPOSE THE MYSTERY GENEVA… THE WTO WANTS SMALL AFRICAN COUNTRIES… WARNING TO CEO… THERE IS NO RECOURSE FOR THE UNDERPRIVILEDGED…CEO CORPORATIONS USE LEGISLATION ADVANTAGE… SEVEN PERCENT OF REALITY IS IN MY HEAD…

Every weekend. Hundreds of sheets of paper, tucked on windshields of parked cars for blocks and blocks in the downtown. He’s angry, that’s clear. He doesn’t think much of people in authority, and seems to hold capitalism in some disregard. Sometimes it seems he’s trying to rally the people to rebellion. At the very least, he’s an ecological threat, but does anyone put him on a published list of threats to peace and stability? Course not. He’s just one nut job, and a pretty harmless one at that.

So, to find that a good number of items made the Canadian list because of one letter of complaint to one bookstore is a little disconcerting. I suppose a serious threat can start with one person; if that one is organized, focussed, diligent. It would depend on the community: will they rally round or ostracize? One unsupported person, forever on their own, is no threat – just the local eccentric.

I further discovered that a fair chunk of them made the list because a parent or group of parents felt they were not age-appropriate. Of course these is room for abuse here. Parents could rally around and decide their sixteen-year-olds should not be reading books about puberty and sexual maturity. But that’s not what I found.

One example that poked me in the eye was that of a book on date rape – which was being used in a GRADE FOUR classroom. Now, those of you who’ve been reading me for long enough will know that I’m very relaxed about sex and sexuality, and I’m able to talk with my children about it freely – at a level appropriate to their capabilities. Date rape? With 9-year-olds?

If my child had been in that class, I’d have been having a conversation with the teacher, too. If it had been a grade seven, maybe even a grade six class, that wouldn’t be troublesome to me. But grade fours are prepubescent, largely. Most of them still think the other sex is “icky”. Dating is not really on their horizon yet, sex even further, and the nasty possibilities of dating/sex impossibly remote. Their first “date”, which will probably not occur for at least a couple of years (if their parents have any sense at all) will likely be done in a group. A bunch of them will go somewhere, and the couple’s dating-ness will be evidenced because they’ll hold hands during the outing (though maybe not when their friends are looking). So, yes, I’d have trouble with that book being raised with my 9-year-old. Does that make me a “book-banner”?

So now I’m wondering: how many titles on the list I posted yesterday got there by similar means?

To me, book-banning means an intelligent effort (not the ravings of a random individual) to have a particular text banned from public consumption. It’s trying to control what other people think. So, if people are lobbying to have a certain book completely prohibited in bookstores and libraries across their city – that’s book-banning. If a single person manages to badger a bookstore owner into removing a volume from his shelves, that’s book-banning. A person who writes a single letter which is either ignored or responded to politely is a would-be banner, but doesn’t deserve the list. A parent who says “I don’t want my child reading this book for another couple of years” is not a book-banner. At all.

Book-banning is real. It is wrong. But please, let’s be accurate.

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© 2006, Mary P

October 1, 2006 Posted by | books, controversy, parenting | 14 Comments