We celebrated Banned Books Week earlier this month in schools and libraries across the country. Every time this event comes up, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to teach in a district that values student choice, a district with a history of supporting the literature brought in by school library media specialists and teachers. But that certainly doesn’t stop community members from complaining about and trying to get certain books banned from school libraries each year.
It boggles my mind that we still have so many citizens so utterly offended by today’s children’s literature–instead of so being so utterly excited by the plethora of interesting topics and genres available in today’s children’s literature–that they are willing to invest a considerable amount of time on a crusade to ban books that, in many instances, haven’t even been read in their entirety by these same people fighting for censorship.
As a high school English teacher, I am no newbie to the controversy stirred by racy and violent teen novels, but I couldn’t imagine that these censorship issues arose all that often at the elementary level. In my quest to learn more about popular fiction in the elementary grades, I heard about The Adventures of Captain Underpants: The Epic First Novel by Dav Pilkey, and about all of the calls to ban this book. Apparently, it was the most banned book in 2012! (If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself: ALA Frequently Challenged Books)
The reasons cited were “offensive language” and “unsuited for age group”. How could this same book that many trusted librarians were hailing as an engaging read, a book that is hugely popular especially among young male readers, be so bad? I took out a copy and dove in.
Not surprisingly, I found the book clever and humorous; I immediately went out and bought a copy for my nephew. Also not surprisingly, I just did not understand all of the hullabaloo! What offensive language? How exactly is this inappropriate for kids?
Don’t get me wrong: I love it when parents are involved in their children’s education and when they pay attention to what their kids are reading. I wish more people followed suit! And I also respect parents’ rights to hold off on exposing their own children to certain books until a certain age or maturity level. But why fight to make these texts unavailable for others? Every child is different; one student’s readiness to encounter a text should not change whether or not that text is available for others.
Let’s channel our energy away from the divisive process of “banning” books and toward a community effort to work together, to know our kids, and to meet the patchwork needs and interests of our diverse student body. Pipe dream? Perhaps. But it’s one worth pursuing.
And what about that nuisance, Captain Underpants, and his mischievous creators, George and Harold? Should you allow your own kids to encounter these rebels? Check out my book trailer (see the link below) and decide for yourself! Better yet, read the book! And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself going out to buy more copies for the little rebels and critical thinkers in your life. 🙂
Book trailer link: