Just because it's Banned Books Week and we're celebrating the right to read doesn't mean there won't be challenges... like this one. That's a link to one of my favorite book blogs, Bookshelves of Doom, talking about a parent in New Hampshire asking her school to remove The Hunger Games from the curriculum. She says it's too scary and violent for middle schoolers, and that her daughter had nightmares while reading it. She also asks (rhetorically) the question "Where is the moral lesson in this book that’s being shown to our children?" Which I would love to have a conversation about, since it's true that the book is violent and scary and also it is undeniably true that it has a chewy moral lesson in the center of all that action. In fact, I would say the moral lessons in the book are less than subtle.
The Hunger Games is great, and it's one of the most popular books for young people out there right now. I loved it. I think every kid I have ever described its plot to has chosen to bring it home. But I have my own reservations about how young is too young to read a book that intense. And so, as a bookseller, here's what I do: I have a long, careful conversation with the parent who's asking. I say what I think about the violence (that it's pretty low-key compared to lots of other books and movies, but that the author doesn't shy away from it either) and the darkness (that the themes are pretty dark but the tone doesn't drag you down, and it focuses a lot on the protagonist's day-to-day survival in the wilderness), and about the writing and the story (it's great, it's smart, it keeps you turning pages, and it's trying to say something really interesting). And then there's that question: should your kid read this? And that's not my question to answer. That's why we have the conversation. Which brings me to a point I think I would've brought up eventually but this particular book challenge just screams.
I would never presume to know what's best for someone else's kid. I mean, I may think "Boy, I think that one's too young, she's probably not gonna like it," but I'm not going to challenge someone's parenting. And teacher's don't want to do that either. That's why, if a book they pick for their curriculum (after lots of careful consideration—they don't just pick them at random) doesn't work for a particular kid, they are ready with a backup plan. That's why they're teachers. Usually with any book that could be a problem for someone, they'll send a note home for parents to look at and sign before they even crack the spines. And even though I love the idea that anyone should be allowed to read anything anytime, I totally get that kids are growing up and parents are trying their best to fashion for them an environment in which to do that safely. It's okay to say, "My kid isn't ready for this book," or "This book doesn't jibe with my family's values," or any number of things. I can't imagine a teacher having a problem with that, either. But it's when that parent goes to the school or library and says, "Because I don't like this book/think it's too mature/like calling things 'filth'/find it offensive, not only should my kid not read it, but I'd like to make that decision for every other parent as well." That's decidedly not fair. I'll say this directly to book banners/challengers: The fact that you want to be able to decide for your own family what is and isn't appropriate media is exactly the reason you shouldn't ban stuff. Other parents also want to decide what works for them and their kids, and often that includes letting their kids explore ideas that might freak you out but that are foundational values for them. When librarians make additions to their collection, when teachers choose a book for the classroom, those decisions are made for a reason. And if you disagree with that reason for yourself or your family, then you have every right to not open the book. But deciding for other people that they or their family shouldn't be able to open it is just plain strange: you thought the decision that the librarian/teacher made was wrong for you. Why would you impose your decision on someone else?
And now, back to our regularly scheduled Banned Books Week festivities.
-Anna, Kids Books