Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Read Banned Books

It's important for writers, educators, and book lovers to make our voices heard not just during Banned Books Week, but anytime books are threatened; we're not just protecting books for ourselves, but for generations to come. There is so much danger in this world, and we shouldn't teach our children that books, that ideas and cultures and beliefs different than our own, are part of that.

I credit books for molding me into who I am today - not just a teacher and a writer, but someone in love with ideas, someone hungry for rich worlds not found outside my window, a person curious about ideas not normally championed by the masses. Who would I be if someone else had closed the curtains on the worlds I grew up with and silenced the voices that whispered to me when I felt alone?

I looked at the list of the top 100 books banned during the 90s. I was in school then and wondered what books I might have missed if book banning had been allowed to impact me. On the list were books that always are: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Wrinkle in Time. But there were two books on the list that had a profound impact on me when I first read them. One was Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume. I read this book at a time when I wasn't sure it was okay to be me, when I was embarrassed about normal biological changes that were outside of my control. I read this at a time when the world said I should be ashamed. The book made me cringe, made me laugh, but above all, the book showed me that I was not alone in what I was feeling. I needed that more than anything.

Another was On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer. I was shocked to find this on the list because I felt that this book belonged just to me. I think I was in sixth grade when my grandmother gave me this book. It was the first signed book I ever owned, and the first time I realized that authors were real people, not larger-than-life immortals who lived on some distant mountain. The book is about a boy who watches his friend drown, and it was the first book I remember making me cry. I've read this book again and again, and I sobbed each and every time.

We need to prevent our children from embracing hatred and ignorance. We must teach them to ask questions, to listen to diverse voices, and to work for a better world. We can do this in part by allowing them to read that which speaks to them.

Let's not snatch books out of the hands of our children. Who knows what they'll pick up to replace them.

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