At the far end of town, where the Grickle-grass grows
and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
and no birds ever sing excepting old crows… is the Street of the Lifted Lorax
Everyone has books they remember as “making a difference”.
Well, ok maybe not everyone, but I’d wish that fate on everyone, so I’ll leave it.
The Lorax was one of those books for me. I can remember reading it for the first time, and thinking “This isn’t like I expected it to be. It doesn’t have a happy ending. Dr. Seuss books are supposed to have happy endings.” Maybe that’s why it mattered, as a 9 year old (or 11 year old, or whatever. I don’t know exactly when I first read it). Maybe it mattered because I’ve loved trees since I was very small, thanks either to some innate tree-hugger gene or because my father also loves trees and caring for them, or both. But I can remember coming away from this book with a better perspective on the world.
A powerful thing, that.
This week is Banned Books Week. Many of the books on the list are ones that I am a more well-rounded human for having read. To Kill a Mockingbird. On the Road. The Sound and the Fury. Brave New World. The Lord of the Rings. The Lorax.
Many of those books I read at home – some of them probably younger than my Conservative WASP School District would’ve liked. But my parents knew their child – and knew what I could and couldn’t handle. When I read The Lord of the Rings with my dad, he used it to talk to me about evil, and about how the world is sometimes not a nice place. In short, he used it as a way to both connect to his kid, and to help her grow up. I had similar conversations with my mom, when reading Of Mice and Men as a freshman in High School.
And I know, I was lucky. I have amazing parents, and they did a good job. But teachers can do this too (I got lucky in that front as well, having had some tremendous literature teachers throughout my schooling).
A lot of times, book banning is done to “PROTECT THE CHILDREN”.
Should a 5 year old be reading The Sound and the Fury? Probably not. Would a 5 year old understand it? Uh… probably not.
Books are some of the best teaching tools for helping people expand their minds, for presenting something outside of what they normally experience. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer present racism /clearly/ as a bad thing. I’m quite sure that nobody wants their children to be confronted with racism in their every day existence – but if they can learn about it from Scout and Tom and Huck, and see those negative effects in what is, essentially, a safe environment, isn’t that a good thing?
And sure, books that present difficult subjects should be presented to kids who are ready to start tackling those subjects – but banning them only serves to make those conversations more difficult. Sheltering children doesn’t make the bad things in the world less bad – and without these kinds of discussions, how can we expect kids to magically come to the “good” conclusions? Books present the “bad things” in a way that is relateable, and a way that is controllable.
Now don’t get me wrong – I think parents need to have the final say in what their kids are or aren’t reading. Who knows a kid better than his or her parents? Sometimes kids aren’t ready for certain conversations – and that’s 100% ok.
But /banning/ the book says that it presents nothing good, that it can serve no purpose. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t going to turn kids into racists (and 90% chance says they’ve heard a racial slur before in their life, whether on TV or on the playground) – but banning books is a good way to take away those conversations, and make them impossible for kids who ARE ready. It’s fine to stop your own kids from reading something; that’s called responsible parenting. But to tell everyone else’s kids what they can and can’t read takes that decision away from other responsible parents.
Ignorance doesn’t solve anything.
Responsibility, however, does.
*Writing this post was hard, because this is a very emotionally charged subject for me. I struggle to refrain from nerdraging about people banning The Lorax and other books I have loved and learned from. I need to thank Falconesse for helping me turn this into a productive post. She is wise, you know!