Student: “Miss, why don’t we have the book ‘13 reasons why’?”
Me: Err…. well. It was not deemed suitable for this library.
Me: Well it promotes suicide and that goes against the moral and ethical values of the school.
Student:“Thats dumb miss. Oh well, I will just watch the series on Netflix”.
13 reasons why – a popular series on Netflix and was based upon a book by Jay Asher that highlights the controversial topics of suicide, bullying and consent. The book was released in 2007 but did not reach widespread usage till the series aired on streaming channel Netflix in 2017 (Goodreads 2017). Suddenly the world exploded into anarchy because the children were reading such content. Would somebody please Think of the children!
Gomez (2018) found that the popularity of the book and series was precisely because it caused such controversy among communities. It is understandable that concerned parents and well meaning bureaucrats were worried that this show would promote suicide in a sub section of society already plagued by mental health concerns (youthbeyondblue.com) but the blanket ‘Ban the book’ is not useful.
Arguably, the book is contentious and also contains other morally debatable issues such as “drug and alcohol use, sexual content, suicide” and is definitely inappropriate for younger children (Gomez 2018). Many schools in the USA banned the book citing unsuitability for their readers and its promotion of self harm (McMahon 2018). Granted I would not give my 9 year old this book as she is definitely too young for its content but I feel like just banning a book based upon fear is nonsensical. Personally, I would keep the books like these in a restricted section for our older readers and place it on a ratings continuum that corresponds to age and maturity levels.
Banned books often highlight controversial issues that society fears or tries to hide (McMahon 2018). The banning of books in itself is very disquieting. Besides the simple fact that it stifles expression of thought and the exploration of ideas, it is simply censorship. In a world where minorities still rarely get heard, and injustices occur worldwide, the banning of such books just move to hide these issues from the rest of the world. The American Library Association have established an annual event “Banned book week” to celebrate the inherent right for readers to have a choice. Besides promoting freedom of choice of reading material, this week also promotes the value of access to information to all. It seems foolhardy to restrict access to book choices for older readers if maturity is not in question (bannedbooksweek.org).
So in the spirit of this post, I am going to list 13 books that have been banned and explain why I think they provide value to a collection within a high school library.
- Thirteen Reasons Why written by Jay Asher
Australia has shockingly high statistics about teen mental health. With suicide the most common outcome for death in the 14-24 age group and supersede car accidents, I think we need to talk about suicide more. (ABS 2014)
- Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
A graphic novel about a transgender child. Well, considering we have a transgender child within our school community, I think this book needs to be included in our school collection. Part of our library development policy is to ensure we have addressed the needs of our all learning community. (ALIA 2017)
- The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
This book is amazing. The senior students do study this book as part of their Senior English course and whilst it does highlight sexual violence, it is exceedingly well written. It does also comment on that boys can be victims of sexual assault and that just being a spectator does not absolve you from guilt. It definitely plays a role in acknowledging the #metoo movement.
- George written by Alex Gino
Another book that was banned because it included a transgender child. Urgh, such drivel! Transgender children are already at a much higher rate of mental disease and are also more likely to commit suicide compared to the cis-gender counterparts (lgbtihealth.org.au). Isolation and social exclusion is commonly cited as reasons to this so it seems ludicrous to ban a book because of a character in the book. Transgender children need to feel normal and included across all aspects, even as characters in books.
- Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg. Oh wow. Lets stifle all normal dialogue about sex with children and leave it to Playboy and the internet. I feel frustrated as sex was and always will be a integral aspect of life. Rather than leaving children to gain their information elsewhere, mostly wrong and often inappropriate, this book talks about sex in a fun joyful manner. Sex is more than just ‘birds and the bees’. It is about consent, boundaries, emotional and physical connections (www.corysilverberg.com).
- To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
A classic story and has been well read and loved across the world as it highlights injustice and inequality before the law. But get this… This book IS STILL BANNED AT SOME SCHOOLS even in 2017 because it promotes immorality (Bellot 2017). Thankfully here in Australia, this book is often studied in Year 10 as a school text. Phew!
- The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas Inspired by the movement #blacklivesmatter this book highlights racial prejudice, activism, police brutality and media misrepresentation. Yes there is swearing, violence, sex and drugs. But its 2019 and most of us know that our young people are already aware of these topics. I think many indigenous students would resonate with this book considering the prejudice many of them face themselves in their dealings with the law.
- And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
Based upon a beautiful story of two male penguins who love each other and raise a chick together from an abandoned egg. Banned because of its same sex relationship storyline, the censors feared that penguins would rampage their blatant sexuality in our sensitive faces. Can you feel my sarcasm? Well it is 2019, and even Australia has legalised same sex marriage so this should not even be an issue within our country. Morris (2016) in her article in the SMH pointed out that the iconic children’s TV show Playschool was featuring same sex couple as part of their families segment. Unfortunately the same TV program aired a similar storyline back in 2004 and was slammed by the then PM John Howard as “foolish” (Morris 2016). Thankfully times have changed and we as a society are more accepting.
- I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Another book banned because it highlights gender issues. Enough said.
- Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald This book was and still is often challenged because of the sex, alcohol consumption, violence and language content. Lombardi (2019) points out that the story challenges the fairy tale of ‘the American dream’ where wealth and fame does not always have a positive outcome. A bit of a slur against a nation that prides itself on capitalism.
- Alice in wonderland by Lewis Carrol I struggled to recall what part in this book would lead to censure from various societal groups. But it appears the book contains references to sexual fantasies which was actually based upon the author’s lifestyle vs actual content in the book. The story also has animals that talk which has caused subsections of Chinese society to believe that it brings animals up to the level of humans and thus cause great disharmony in the minds of unsuspecting children. Bah! Drivel! The last reason is that the book promotes drug use as a hookah is present in a scene, well it has a talking animal using a hookah (Melendez 2018). Considering this book is based on literary nonsense, I find these reasons to be just that.. Nonsense.
- Harry Potter by J K Rowling. Well, the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has definitely seen enough challenges to this book series with calls to have it banned and even burned (Peters 2017). Challenged for its tales of sorcery and witchcraft, it is mostly religious zealots that feel that this book series is an affront to their world. But considering I was one of the early faithful and so far have not yet been burned at the stake nor have had my broom stolen, I think I can dismiss their angst. J K Rowling inspired so many children, teens and adults with her books and HP was the driving force of an entire generation of readers. A brilliant story of the fight between good and evil, friend and foe, individual and society where it is love that conquered all, has such meaning in our world today (McMahon 2018).
- Hunger games by Suzanne collins Violent it is. This book series is truly terrifying. Not in the violence it portrays but rather the dystopian society it highlights. The disparity between the different districts shows symmetry between the haves and have nots in our real world and the way the elite feed off the suffering from the lowest members in society. The point of the ‘hunger game’ is to defeat your opponents at all cost even if they are more vulnerable than you is what I struggle with. Whilst this series is distasteful on a personal level, it is an important addition to the collection due to the critical thinking and ethical discussion it invokes with critics and readers (McMahon 2018) .
ABS Causes of Death, Australia, 2012 (2014). Underlying causes of death (Australia) Table 1.3. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3303.0
ALIA (2017) A manual for developing policies and procedures in Australian school library resource centres. 2nd Ed. Retrieved from alia.org.au
Commonsense Media (2015) And Tango makes three. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/and-tango-makes-three
Bellott, G. (2017) Why are schools still banning To kill a mockinbird still banned in 2017? Shondaland Retrieved from https://www.shondaland.com/inspire/books/a13971188/to-kill-a-mockingbird-banned/
Beyondblue (N.D) Stats and facts. Retrieved from https://www.youthbeyondblue.com/footer/stats-and-facts
www.coreysilverberg.com (N.D) Sex is a funny word. Retrieved from https://www.corysilverberg.com/sex-is-a-funny-word
Goodreads (2017) The hate u give. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32075671-the-hate-u-give
Goodreads (2017) 13 reasons why Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29844228-thirteen-reasons-why
Invaluable (N.D) 15 Banned books and the reasons for their censorship. Retrieved from https://www.invaluable.com/blog/banned-books/
Lombardi, E (2019) Why was the Great Gatsy controversial? Thought co. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/why-was-great-gatsby-controversial-739960
McMahon, R. (2018) Why your kid should read banned books? Commonsense media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/why-your-kid-should-read-banned-books
Melendez, D. (2018) Why Alice in wonderland was banned throughout the 20th century. Entertainment Retrieved from https://www.hercampus.com/school/uprm/why-alice-wonderland-was-banned-throughout-20th-century
Morris, L. (2016) Playschool segment to feature gay fathers. SMH. Retrieved from www.smh.com.au/entertainment/play-school-segment-to-feature-gay-fathers-20160204-gmlko0.html
National LGBTI Alliance (2016) The Statistics at a glance: The mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Australia. Retrieved from https://lgbtihealth.org.au/statistics/