When I signed up to write about my favorite banned book over at @thmafi’s blog I was stumped. Which one to choose!?! There are simply so many! The obvious choice was the HARRY POTTER series, which as we know, I heart, and which tops both the list of best selling books for the past decade and the ALA’s list of most challenged books. But that’s too obvious. Basically, if people have not figured out yet that it is not a Satanic diatribe, well, God help them *roll eyes*

Of course, there are (sadly) many other fabulous books to write about. In its 50th year of publication, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is  a good example. It is often chosen as a classic Must-Read, and it has faced challenges since the beginning. But so have  a lot of others that I have enjoyed over the years: Gatsby, Catcher, Color Purple, GWTW, Rebecca,  Huck Finn (Twain’s response to Denver’s ban of his book is as amusing as most of his work :) ) and yes, Winnie-the Pooh.

Meanwhile, there are the books that make one say “WTH” ? the Dictionary!?! Captain Underpants? What about Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (which I personally have avoided reading over and over and over for the past year…parents know what I’m sayin’) but which serves as an example of the ignorance that surrounds book banning. It was banned in Texas because the school board did not A.) Do their freaking research B.) Bother to read the book and C.) Think that it is possible for 2 men to have the same name, i.e. “Bill Martin”. Funnily enough, the author of this and dozens of other picture books is a Junior, so obviously there is more than one.

I often wonder if people who challenge books actually read them first. Or if they just want to promote their own agenda. Or if they really care about Freedom of Speech. There was a local news story about a woman who was challenging a book on a school’s Recommended Summer Reading List. NOT required, not even (most likely) expected. Just suggestions of books to choose from if a parent should decide to take their child to a library over the summer. Her beef was the junior picture book version of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH by You-Know-Who. Now, I get that some people still think science and climate change are not real. Whatev. But I still think she just wanted to get on TV and try to push her (completely unsubstantiated) opinion.  If it is not required reading, then do not read it. Duh. Rant over.

So, I narrowed it down to Books I Have Read and Books Under Challenge Now. Yes, there have been a lot of books challenged and banned in the past. Some of them are on the list every year and are familiar to many readers. I am more concerned with the newer books that are being challenged and banned. Most of these are Young Adult books that are challenged for sexual references.

I think that to most young readers (and let’s face it–they are the citizens whose intellectual rights are challenged the most) books are an important source and outlet for information. I admit, I read books that my parents would not have approved. I also read books that they did approve and bought for me. I generally liked most of them. But part of growing, learning and becoming a functioning adult is  practicing critical thinking and developing your own mind. I would not want to keep my children from having all available resources or from pursuing their own happiness.

Young adults are going to learn about sex one way or another. If parents have not learned how to discuss it with them, if teachers are not able to teach non-abstinence facts, then teens will still learn about It. I would prefer the new-found knowledge be from a book, rather than from television or the Web. And I would rather their learning be done critically, showing all facets and points of view as most books do, especially books published as Kid Lit, instead of physically through clumsy trial-and-error which may lead to STDs, teen pregnancy and/or hours of crying into one’s pillow. (Or worse! Teen suicide is a bigger problem in this land than teen sex. There. I said it!) Also, as a writer who can only hope that one day she makes it to a Banned Books list, I want kids to read and I know that they are far more likely to read a book they are interested in, rather than an assigned book chosen by an adult. Personally, I think it is amazing and awesome that there are SOOO many books being published in the children and young adult market. End of the Book, pshaw!

So, I pondered it, read lists, looked on my own highly controversial bookshelves and I went to the best place to learn about books: The Library. One of the most beautiful facts of our country’s freedoms: we get free books. I spend a lot of time at the library and have a good dialogue with my librarians. The conversation we had about banned books (as she set up their display) was heartening. I learned that only one book has been challenged (in her knowledge) in our  400-year old, smallish, right-leaning county: AND TANGO MAKES THREE. {Follow the link for a post about that children’s picture book from the fabulous Booklady’s Blog.} The saddest thing about that challenge is it is NON-fiction. People want to ban facts. Grrr…

Finally, I opened the library’s print-out of this year’s Banned Books Week campaign and saw THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie listed first. And I learned that it was banned, removed by a school board in Missouri this year and previously in Oregon among other challenges. I read this book, primarily because it was a National Book Award winner and one of the top recommended books for teen boys. I like sharing books with my son, ever since he was in utero. I read it, laughed, cried, laughed A LOT more and even learned a little (granted, I had some previous knowledge of the subject matter). Then I gave it to him and said “You have to read this” which was not an order, but as he knew, just a great suggestion.

The main reasons cited for banning TATDOAPTI are language, substance use, and sexual situations. I admit, I was keenly aware of giving my son a book that discussed masturbation, but I had a feeling he already knew about that. But sex, drugs and rock n’ roll aside, this book depicts a reality that many teens in this country experience daily. At the same time, it also depicts one that many people are not aware of or do not understand. I wanted my brilliant son to appreciate his education and just how good he’s got it.

The main character experiences obstacles, discouragement, and a whole lot of stress in order to pursue his education. Since birth, he had physical challenges, which required brain surgery. He is awkward and ridiculed and also brilliant and hilarious. His story is about making the most of what you can in your life no matter what problems you face. He actually walks miles to get to a school that can give him a better education. Alexie throws light on the difference between reservation schools and US public schools. He also details a bright boy’s struggle to find his place in two societies, neither of which fully accepts him. A student speaking out in support of the book said at the Stockton County, MO school board meeting

This book in a nutshell is my hope. It’s not about giving up. It’s about not letting people tell you you’re not worth it.

and she was completely ignored. The vote was 7-0 to ban it. I pray that does not cause her to lose hope. She and her peers need to know that their experiences and feelings matter, too. When young people are constantly told that their opinions and beliefs do not count, they begin to believe it.

Junior, the MC and narrator of “Absolutely True Diary” , is one of those teens and his story is worth reading. Yes, teens cuss, are exposed to substances, and think about sex too much. But they also try to find their talents, develop their abilities and dream of their futures. Why would we want to censor that?