Usually I’m more on the ball when it comes to book issues and support for abolishing censorship of the printed word.
The American Library Association has a list of the top 100 banned or challenged books for the past decade, but rather than copy the whole list, I’ll just list the ones I’ve read and some thoughts regarding.
1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
These books were runaway bestsellers not because millions of kids expected to get some magic lessons that actually work, but because they could identify with the issues characters faced. The importance of studying, how it feels to be unpopular, the desire to be special or impressively different, the power and risk of secret keeping, the need to stand up to the villains by uniting with friends and other allies. Useful things, all in all.
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
I only read one of them and it seemed like silly teenage fluff, mostly. Naylor opts for realism when she writes her fiction so we wind up with real teenage issues facing Alice and her friends, issues that affect the readers to greater or lesser degrees. How about that cute boy? When is the right time to have sex? My parents are driving me crazy! I had another fight with my best friend and I don’t think she likes me anymore…
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
This was picked for our book club a while back. Peer pressure and the stress of trying to fit in come to a head in this one. It’s especially problematic as the readers learn of the impact certain teachers are having when it comes to picking sides, too. While it’s been years since I was a teen in school, I certainly recall the sense that there were teachers playing favourites sometimes, and unnecessarily picky against other students. It must have had an effect on the dynamics of student relationships, igniting resentment and envy and the like.
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
This is a non-fiction book about a couple male penguins at a zoo who get the urge to co-parent a young one. Male penguins in the wild take an active interest in the raising of their young so why this had to become some oddity worth reporting on is somewhat beyond me. As is the freak-out of everyone the least bit homophobic. Ridiculous.
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Life is full of choices and sometimes they’re all bad. I wonder about those who lack empathy when it comes to understanding what it might be like to be faced with that.
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
The trouble isn’t the fact that religions exist. The trouble is caused by the people who follow them and their leaders without once questioning their ambitions to make sure they’re truly understood and sound. I think the majority of people wouldn’t even know how to begin to think like that, especially when it comes down to differences between their faiths and scientific progress that continues to whittle away at cherished beliefs.
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Rebellion is a part of growing up. There’s always going to be someone holding a measuring stick to gauge our successes and failures, but our harshest critics will generally be ourselves.
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
I don’t think we’ll ever live in a world free of stereotypes and racism but the best defense against them has to be a weapon in the minds of parents, educators, and other adult role models who can show kids how to treat others with respect in spite of it.
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
It’s tough to challenge the status quo, especially when the damage being done to people in that society goes largely unnoticed by everyone else in that society.
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
Fat should be a word as innocuous to use as blond or tall when describing someone’s personal attributes. It shouldn’t have negative connotations but when it comes to words in the English language, I can’t think of many that are more brutal and damaging to kid’s sense of self worth. I might have to read this book again, actually.
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
The reasons why we do things matter. How many of our choices to act come from triggers leftover from conditioning in childhood, or propaganda we’ve taken to heart as older people? How much of our behaviour is a direct result of our evolution, and how much of it has to do with the societies we’ve built and what we decide to honour in them?
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Books might burn, but if you light an idea on fire, it can light up a world.
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
History is written by the winners, so if you have any choice in the matter, try to be on that side. Then again, when it does come time to choose sides, the ultimate winner isn’t necessarily going to be right. Decisions are made every day that may have consequences so far reaching yet completely invisible the moment the decision is made. How many plans have governments offered their people where it can be wondered decades later why people let things happen in the first place?
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
While I’d never claim love conquers all, the love people have for their families and friends helps immensely when it comes to overcoming challenges. Faith in people.
99. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Everyone questions what they’re going through, especially when it’s puberty. Blume’s willingness to take a real issue like that and lay it out for her readers proves she’s one smart cookie. Kids might feel uncomfortable bringing up some concerns with a trusted adult so books like this are beneficial and worthwhile.
–edit 2:20 pm: added a few more lines to the stuff about Atwood’s book. Wasn’t keen on how I left it.