Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book 'em

Last time I checked we stopped burning (or drowning or crucifying) witches hundreds of years ago. And yet some people would like to ban (even burn as some churches have done) books that feature witches or magic of any kind. They fear the words will corrupt children, make them want to cavort in Satan's playground.

STREGA NONA? Really? I'm stunned that someone challenged the right of Tomie dePaola's Caldecott Award winner to be in a library. But they did.

This delightfully-illustrated book tells of a boy who disobeys his employer, an old lady with a magic cooking pot. He tries her spell when she isn't home and covers the town in pasta. It's funny. It teaches a lesson about showing off, disregarding warnings and not being respectful. I seriously doubt it would lure any kid into the dark side, for heaven's sake.

This is Banned Book Week, the annual event hosted by the American Library Association to highlight books that have been attacked, that someone has tried to remove from a school or public library because the books don't fit their world view.

Like STREGA NONA, J.K. Rowling's HARRY POTTER series, Katherine Paterson's BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and Roald Dahl's THE WITCHES have been challenged for occult themes. The Potter books were burned by churches in New Mexico and Michigan, with congregations in Iowa and Maine only stopped by fire departments.
Among authors who speak out against book bans are the venerable Ray Bradbury, whose anti-censorship novel FAHRENHEIT 451 is frequently challenged; Judy Blume, whose ground-breaking children's books are targeted because they address such real life issues as racism, bullying and sex; and Laurie Halse Anderson, who recently sounded the alarm against a professor in Missouri who tried to get SPEAK taken out of schools. It's what Wesley Scroggins said about that book that made me sick to my stomach for a week.
He called the novel about date rape "soft porn" in a newspaper op-ed piece. I've read that book. There's nothing remotely pornographic about the tastefully-written, painful account of what happens to a rape victim and her slow road back to emotional recovery. Anderson has received thousands of thank-you notes from kids who found help dealing with their own trauma. While Anderson gave rape victims hope, Mr. Scroggins victimized them again with his words. I feel I have the right to say that since I am one of those victims.

The reasons given for challenging books can be anything from religion and politics to language and sexual content. The question is do you want somebody else deciding for you what's acceptable to read? If you have never checked out ALA's list of frequently challenged books by decades, please click the link above. I think you will be astounded at how many extraordinary, important, thought-provoking books are on the lists. Read them. Talk about them. Don't let someone's narrow world-view put blinders on you.

You can also check out my previous posts about other banned books: THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, TWISTED, LOOKING FOR ALASKA, FEED, JULIE OF THE WOLVES, THE HANDMAID'S TALE.


Rick Daley said...

I've read much regarding the controversy over SPEAK, and I just have one point to make: people who relate rape to porn reveal quite a bit about their own sad mental states. The way I see it, Wesley Scroggins admitted to the world that sexual assault turns him on.

I've read similar things regarding THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO...that guys "get off" reading it and it glorifies violence against women. That book I have read, and I don't think it glorified anything but revenge.

Tere Kirkland said...

I hate to see children's books with "occult themes" being banned. Kids don't see the books as anything but fairy tales. The banners are obviously missing the point, that the moral of the story is what should matter to them, not the magic.

And really, doesn't everyone need a little more magic in their lives?

Great post, Tricia!

Anonymous said...

When I was teaching I was on the defending end of keeping certain books in my classroom library. The few times that parents questioned or challenged the books I had, the first question I'd ask them was if they'd read the book in question. Often, there response was "no."

Yat-Yee said...

Strega Nona?

And that soft porn designation really burns me up. The only consolation I have is that that essay tells us more about who he is than about what Speak is: a man who considers rape soft porn. *shudders*

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Rick: The more I think about this, the more I wonder if some people are incapable of critical thinking or imagination. If you can't see the forest for the trees, you'd certainly miss satire or irony or deeper meanings in a work.

@Tere: I know! Magic makes the horrors of real life tolerable sometimes. It's fun and filled with hope and dreams. What's so wrong with that?
Besides, usually good triumphs.

@Paul: That is what truly disturbs me. During the SPEAK controversy, I read comments by people who said they hadn't read it but would support banning "if" it went certain places. How can can anyone make a statement like that if they haven't read it? That perpetuates the wrong done to the author, who certainly is not a pornographer.

@Yat-Yee: I shudder, too. I remain deeply disturbed by this.

Bish Denham said...

It's sickening that some idiot thinks rape is is soft porn. My word.

We must ban all fairy tales. And there are witches in the Bible, and horrific accounts of murder and mayhem. Perhaps the Bible should be banned because it's so bloody violent in so many places?

Melissa Hurst said...

Wow, I didn't realize Strega Nona had been challenged. I used to read that to my first graders.

It is so sad that some people feel the need to decide what others should or should not read. I think parents are the only ones who should decide what their own children read, not people who have an agenda.

Sarah Wylie said...

I haven't read Strega Nona but I'm continuously baffled by some of the books that are challenged. Bridge to Terabithia? Really?

Suzanne Casamento said...

Last night, my friend sent me a list of The Top 100 Banned Books. Horrifying. And ridiculous.


What is WRONG with these banatics?

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Bish: Indeed, but I fear your sarcasm will be lost on those who would benefit. *sigh*

@Melissa: You hit on a good point. These people always have an agenda.

@Sarah: Sadly, yes, really.

@Suzanne: "Banatics" that's a good one. As for what's wrong with them? They believe they have the only valid viewpoint. At least, that's what I get from their behavior.

Claire Dawn said...

I read all the lists on the ALA website, and a few of the books I couldn't even think of what they were challenged for.

I love that Harry Potter is challenged both for being religious and Satanic. Proof you can't please everybody.

VR Barkowski said...

I may get into trouble for saying this, but here goes. I moderate a forum for writers. Today the topic was banning books. The debate wasn't pro or con - it was whether banatics were stupid or Fascists.

Who gives a bloody damn? What matters is that banning books is wrong. STREGA NONA? Grrr.

Donna said...

Go get'em, Tricia.

YA readers might "rebel" and read banned books, but little kids wouldn't have a chance. Keep up the good work.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Claire: That's the heart of the problem--it shouldn't be okay to force a prejudice on to others.

@Viva: Exactly. In a free society, ideas and written words are protected. Anyone is also free to disagree with those words but not to ban them (unless we're talking law-breaking stuff but that's an entirely different discussion)

@Donna: So true. The picture and middle-grade books that get challenged are benign, really. If the subject bothers a parent than they can censor it in their own house or, better yet, openly discuss why they object to it with their children.

Phoenix said...

It seems, as sad as it sounds, that there is no limit to people's fear. When people become afraid of ideas it is dangerous times indeed.

If I met Mr. Scroggins I think I should surely punch the man in the face, as I am also a survivor of sexual violence. What a disgusting, pathetic excuse for a man.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Julie of the Wolves?? I had no idea this was banned! I'm going to check that out since I can't for the life of me figure out why it would be!

Robyn Campbell said...

BAH on people who even think of banning books. That makes my blood BOIL.

That so called christian is not what God calls a christian. He is NOT a man of God. No way no how.

I hope you are okey dokey. :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Phoenix: You're right, it comes down to fear. So much distrust and hatred in the world is fear-based.
And I know exactly how you feel about that man.

@TerryLynn: I know! It's such an incredible book. Just boggles the mind what people object to.

@Robyn: We're all spouting steam over this, it seems. And, yes, thank you, I'm doing fine. :)

Jo Schaffer said...

Wow! Srega Nona was one of my faves as a child. The neverending pasta! So cool.
(= I loooove stories with magic.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Jo: I love magic, too. The world would be so dull without that wonder.