Banned Books Week 2014: Part of Literacy is Critical Thinking

Hello! Katje here. 🙂

A banned classic.

Today I want to talk about Banned Books Week. It runs from September 21st to 27th and is sponsored by a lot of organizations including the American Library Association. Hundreds of books have been challenged or banned in schools and libraries across the world, and very often they’re books aimed at kids or teens. The purpose of Banned Books Week is to bring attention to books that have been challenged or banned and to celebrate the freedom to read. Banning books may seem like an easy solution to objectionable material, but what it actually does is make the banned books more enticing and creates an environment where people are going to read them anyway, but without the proper context.

A better approach is to teach kids of appropriate age about the books and cover why they’re considered objectionable. This gives a proper context for the books without making them more enticing. It also gives kids the power to decide whether they agree with whoever found the book objectionable.

The thing is, people can find any sort of meaning in any sort of book, and that goes for both positive and negative meanings. For example, I might read The Beeman and think it’s a great book for pagan parents because it teaches kids about bees and the importance of stewardship over them as wild bees continue to suffer death and disease, and bees are sacred to so many deities and in many pagan faiths, as well. Someone else might read the same book and think it’s a great book for Christian parents because it teaches about the miracle of God’s work in every little thing, including bees. Yet another person might read it and think it’s a great book for secular/non-spiritual parents because it teaches about the science of bees and the greatness of the natural world without any deity or spirits involved.

None of these meanings is wrong, nor is any one of them the one, true, correct meaning. They’re all interpretations. And often, what people find objectionable in children’s books is based on interpretations.

Part of raising healthy readers is giving them the options to decide for themselves what is objectionable or not. But that doesn’t mean we just fling content at them and let them flounder. We need to present books in context and give kids tools for critically analyzing the literature appropriate to their age.

There are plenty of books I personally find objectionable. Sometimes it’s because the content is objectively disturbing; other times it’s because of my interpretations. When raising my future children I don’t plan on banning them from reading books, but I do plan on restricting when they read them, and making sure I give them a proper context for understanding why I have problems with the text before they do.

I plan on doing the same thing with books I don’t find objectionable — take one of my absolute favourite series as an example. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is fine for a seven year old, but later books in the series get progressively more adult as the characters age, and thus I’d want my children to be older before starting on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Learning to read is very important, but part of literacy is critical thinking. You need to be able to think critically about the text you consume. Outright banning of books won’t teach kids how to think about what they read — it’ll just teach them that they need to work a little harder and be a little stealthier if they want to read the things other people find objectionable.

-Katje

Have you ever found a book that you found objectionable being presented to your child? How did you deal with it?

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