It's Banned Books Week, that time of year when the American Library Association draws attention to censorship and promotes the freedom to read. The first I'm against and the second I heartily endorse! (Thanks to Amanda at The Zen Leaf for alerting me.)
According to the ALA, 513 challenges were reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2008.
The 10 most "controversial" (scare quotes!) titles include two that I've read: Khaled Hosseini's much-praised The Kite Runner, about his native Afghanistan; and the children's book Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen, about two male guinea pigs who tie the knot.
The Kite Runner made the list because it contains offensive language, it's sexually explicit and "unsuited to age group." I don't quite understand that last part because as far as I know, the novel's "age group" is adults. This isn't something a young child would be interested in at all.
While there is a scene of sexual violence, it's not done in a titillating way and it's absolutely essential to the story. And I don't remember an excessive amount of profanity.
This is an absorbing, thoughtful novel that a teenager could definitely handle. It's a window into a country and a culture in which Americans ought to have a great deal of interest. It's also an immigrant story, as the main character and his family struggle to make new lives for themselves in the United States.
Uncle Bobby's Wedding made the list because it's "unsuited to age group and homosexuality." I first heard about it in 2008, when Colorado librarian Jamie LaRue wrote about a challenge from a patron.
This is a sweet, beautifully illustrated story about a little girl gerbil named Chloe who's afraid of not being able to spend as much time with her favorite uncle once he gets married.
I can't imagine anyone possibly being offended unless they have a heart of stone. It's about the importance of family and the vocabulary seems totally appropriate for the intended age group. The love between Bobby and Jamie (the two male gerbils) is presented matter-of-factly. There's no big discussion about it.
What offends me are people who find books with gay and lesbian characters offensive, as if it's something we can't talk about "in front of the children." It's just as demeaning and bigoted as banning books with black, Latino or Jewish characters.
Besides, "the children" may already have a classmate with a gay or lesbian parent or family member. Those kids have the right to find books about their families on the shelves, too.
Do parents have a right to pick their children's library books? Absolutely. Do they have a right to pick the library books for other people's children? Absolutely not.