During the last week of September every year, libraries, bookstores, and blogs around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of banned books and hosting a variety of events. This blog is participating by taking part in the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop, Sept. 24-Oct. 1.
Books are challenged or banned for a wide variety of reasons, and challenged or banned books include children's books, popular books and series, and treasured classics. The reasons may be language, sexual content, or ideas that are perceived as challenging political or moral values held by those challenging the book. Challenges can come from any direction; the desire to protect people, especially children, from "harmful" material is not the property of one political, religious, or social viewpoint.
I believe very strongly that the right to read what we choose is vital to a free, democratic, and resilient society. The most effective answer to unconstructive, unhelpful speech is more speech--not censorship. Parents have the right and the duty to guide their children's choices of reading material, but they have to do that by talking to their children, teaching them their values, and supervising them in age-appropriate ways. No parent has the right, merely because they are parents, to control the choices available to other people's children, and especially not adults, by deciding what the school or local library is and is not allowed to carry.
When I was growing up, my Mom and Dad never restricted my reading. (At least, not in any obvious way; I assume that when I was very young some things were just kept out of my sight.) What they did do was teach me their values, and talk to me about any book that I read. We talked about books, ideas, the moral choices of the characters in novels.
I grew up with the understanding that the fact that something's in a book doesn't make it true or right, and that I could disagree with someone without needing to shut them down. I knew there were books I didn't want to read at the library, and that they were there because other people did want to read them--and that you couldn't change people's minds just by taking their books away from them.
Banning "dangerous" books doesn't protect our society; it threatens the very foundations of it.
Teach your children, and then trust them. Don't be afraid of different ideas.
One frequently challenged American classic is Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemons.) The reasons for challenging it are various. It uses the "n-word" to refer to African-Americans of the pre-Civil War period. Huck Finn makes an important choice in the course of the book, in which he defies the law and the moral injunctions of his elders, and is shown as being right to do so. America of the pre-Civil War period is portrayed as being less than perfect--a long way less than perfect.
The story of Huckleberry Finn is simple; in fact, the Author's Note at the beginning threatens dire consequences for anyone claiming to identify a plot in the book. Huck, having come into money in an earlier book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, has been placed in the custody of the Widow Douglas, who is attempting to civilize him. He appreciates her efforts, but feels confined. The alternative, living with his abusive father, is even worse. Huck runs away, heads down the Mississippi River--and meets up with the Widow Douglas' slave, Jim, who has also run away. They raft down the Mississippi together, with Huck getting an education about people, relations between black and white, and injustice. In the end they are back in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, MO, with Jim recaptured and set to be sold. Huck has a difficult choice to make.
This is not a grim book; it is lively and entertaining, and filled with adventures that any young or young-at-heart reader will enjoy. Huck learns a lot, though, and grows as a human being. This is an important book; it's also a fun one.
Purchase it: Huckleberry Finn is easily available from a wide variety of sources, including nearly all bookstores, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com, in hardcover, paperback, and ebook form, and at a wide range of prices, depending on how fancy an edition you want. I've linked to a mid-range priced paperback edition available at Amazon.com. You can click on the cover image to go to Amazon and buy it, or look for another edition.
Win it: I am giving away one copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an older paperback edition, not the edition I have linked to. This is my own copy, purchased years ago, and was not donated by anyone. The winner will be chosen using Random.org.
Mandatory entry: You must be (or become) a GFC follower. Leave a comment telling me about a "banned book" that you've read, or your experience with a book being banned or challenged in your school or local library.
Optional extra entries:
1. Follow me on Twitter; tell me your Twitter name.
2. Tweet about this giveaway, and post the URL of the tweet here. (You find the URL of your tweet by clicking on the timestamp for it.) Include a link to this post.
3. Post about this giveaway on Facebook, and post the URL of your post here. (Again, you find it by clicking on the timestamp.)
You can post all entries in a single comment, or in multiple comments. Be sure to include your email so I can reach you if you win.
Enjoy reading books, banned or not!
Disclaimer: I am giving away my own copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and have received no gifts or compensation from anyone for this giveaway.