I always thought banned books week was awesome.  I loved throwing my full enjoyment of “offensive” books in the face of every high strung parent that was too involved in my elementary school (not to mention the teachers).  As I aged, I came to realize that, though the celebration of these works is wonderful and exciting, the need to celebrate it is sad.  I’m saddened by the fact that freedom of information is, in this day and age, still so frowned upon by well-meaning individuals who should be talking to their children about issues that concern them, instead of placing the responsibility on libraries to keep anything “offensive” away from their children.  And don’t even get me started on the fact that two male penguins raising a penguin egg together is “offensive.”  If you stay in touch with your children’s lives (as much as they will let you), and you know what they’re reading and you talk to them about it, maybe you’ll find that these books aren’t so bad for them.  Maybe you’ll even help them deal with some of the same issues that the characters in these books do, and in helping them, you’ll make sure your child knows that they can trust you.

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Anyway, in celebration of Banned Books Week, here’s a look at the top ten banned books of the last year.   

1)     “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell,   for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group;  

I love penguins, and therefore adore this book.  And I have to say, it’s about as pro-family as a penguin book can get.  Seriously, what’s anti-family about two loving penguins raising a third tiny, fluffy, adorable penguin as there own?  Also, it’s a picture book about talking animals.

2)     “Gossip Girls” series by Cecily Von Ziegesar for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group, and offensive language

Yes, I’ve read Gossip Girl, and yes, I like it.  And no, I don’t admit that often.  Sure it’s dirty and mean and full of stuff that I don’t think fifteen year old girls should be trying to emulate, but guess what, so is high school.  Why stop them from reading about it when they’re going through their own less-glamorous version of it every day anyway?

3)     “Alice” series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for sexual content and offensive language;

I’ve actually never read the Alice series, but I remember checking these books out to many a fourth grader, and never heard anyone complain.  I may have to go out and pick up some of these to see what all the fuss is about.

4)     “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things” by Carolyn Mackler for sexual content, anti-family, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;

 God forbid someone write a book in which a teenage girl goes through typical teenage girl issues!  We certainly don’t want our children relating to a character. 

5)     “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison for sexual content, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;

 If you’re old enough to be capable of reading Toni Morrison, then you’re old to be allowed to read Toni Morrison.  Seriously, it’s not easy.  And, to some extent, it’s meant to be offensive, because it’s meant to make you think about the realities that the author is presenting.

6)  “Scary Stories” series by Alvin Schwartz for occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence, and insensitivity;

Satanism.  Really?  Don’t get me wrong, this book freaked me out and gave me nightmares when I was a kid.  I still get creeped out at the memory of that picture of the lady who had spider eggs laid in her face and they all hatched and came crawling out.  But satanism.  Really?

7)     “Athletic Shorts” by Chris Crutcher for homosexuality and offensive language.

Again, I’ve never read this book (or collection of short stories), but like The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, I think it’s focus is on confronting actual issues, such as relationships between teenagers and parents and emerging sexuality, that real teenagers deal with and giving them a positive way to relate to their own situations.  I know that parents like to overprotect, and that they’re scared of the very fact that their children have to confront these issues.  But in the end, they have to deal with them one way or another.  Banning a book because it deals with the very real and present issue of homosexuality in high school isn’t going to make the issue go away.

8)     “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky for homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, and unsuited to age group

This is a beautiful book.  Perhaps its a bit sophisticated for some fifteen year olds, but it captures that world in a way that is neither cliched, nor glizty glamorous, like so much teen lit in the last few years.  To take it away from teens because it’s “unsuited for their age group” is to say that they themselves, and what they go through is unsuted for their age group. 

9)     “Beloved” by Toni Morrison for offensive language, sexual content, and unsuited to age group;

See note on The Bluest Eye.  Multiply by ten.  Seriously.  I’ve never been able to get through it.  It’s too damn hard to follow.

10)     “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier for sexual content, offensive language, and violence.

Yes, this book is disturbing.  Yes it challenges you to think.  Yes, that’s the freaking point. 

For more information about banned books, check out ALA’s site on the most frequently banned books of the 1990’s.  Another great resource is, of course, Amnesty International’s page on Banned Books Week.  Or visit your local library (how PBS does that sound?  Awesome.)

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