The most frequent target of censorship attempts in 2015 was John Green’s Looking for Alaska. The year before it was another young adult novel, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Censoring books, whether in the form of keeping them off library shelves, off reading lists, or outright bans, does not help us maintain our values or protect our children. Quite the opposite.
Freedom of expression-- and the free exchange of ideas-- are at the foundation of our community’s strength. Young adult author Laurie Halse Anderson puts it this way: “Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.”
Like most people, there are many books whose content I find appalling; books I hope my children never read. But those books should be protected too. That is the very meaning of free speech. As the prolific Neil Gaimon has said, “The same laws cover the stuff you like and the stuff you find icky, wherever your icky line happens to be: the law is a big blunt instrument that makes no fine distinctions...you only realise how wonderful absolute freedom of speech is the day you lose it.”
“It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me,” says Judy Blume (you know, of Super Fudge fame), “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.”
I’ve written about the censorship issue in our own community before. I’m sharing these thoughts and quotes from famous children’s book authors today in support of the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week,” which raises awareness of the continued problem of censorship in our bookstores, libraries and schools. You can find the top 10 list of most frequently challenged books in 2015, as well as lots of other information, at their website.
So please, the next time you discover a book that is offensive, overly sexual, sacrilegious, racist, or otherwise objectionable-- don’t call for banning it. Trying to hide such ideas never works. Instead, just return it to the shelf and help your kid-- or yourself-- find something better.
Here is John Green’s response to having written the most challenged book of last year. He is far more articulate than I in making the case that banning books just doesn't make sense-- a great 3 minutes:
Previous posts on the issue of book censorship: