Book Banning and the Call for a Rating System
As I sat watching the original “Footloose” with my daughter last night, I thought of how so many things had changed – the hairstyles, the shoes, the dance moves – and yet how so many things have stayed the same. There is a scene where parents toss books into a burning bin – fearful of the words on the pages. It seems that no matter how modern our society becomes, it is still difficult to get over this fear.
Death, witchcraft, gore, and sex. These are just some of themes that you can see on the covers – and within the pages – of books in the children’s wing at your local library. And these are just a few of the reasons why some adults want books either banned from the children’s wings of libraries, or to have a rating system on books (much like the movie rating system).
Should Books Be Rated for Kids?
The author of the Vampyre Labyrinth series, GP Taylor, is now changing his tune and pushing for age certifications on children’s literature. He admits that some of the books he has written are too frightening, and says that, “I have changed my mind: I think children’s literature has gone too far.”
Part of this appears to be stemming from a recent analysis of award-winning children’s literature. This analysis shows that modern children’s literature is more likely to feature characters with troubled or absent parents, or children who have been abandoned. However, if you ask one of my sons, Disney movies have been doing this since its inception. Long ago at the tender age of 6 this sweet son of mine swore off Disney movies – detesting them because the mom always dies. From Bambi to Cinderella to Finding Nemo – this theme of motherless children forced to endure life on their own has been a mainstay of classic children’s movies. My son banned Disney movies for himself – but we hardly ban them from the house as he discerned for himself what he felt good about watching or not (and now he loves scary movies – but still not Disney).
Opponents to book rating systems say that all it would do is create an almost innate desire in kids to read the book on the top shelf. It must be really good if it stays on the top shelf. In our library right now we have the children’s wing separated by signs – Early Readers, Young Adult Fiction, etc. – and that seems to work well enough for most families. Beyond creating the mystique that a rating system would do, rating books based on content would be such a subjective act. Who would be assigned or corralled to determine what books, at what ages, my kids should read? The only answer I am comfortable with is: my family.
Banning Books – Still a Modern Practice
While you don’t really hear of book burning in the news, you probably also aren’t hearing of book banning – but it is still happening. In fact, book banning is still trending enough so that there is an entire coalition, backed by the Library of Congress, dedicated to ending the practice. You can even check out the map of book banning across the United States. Banned Books Week, recently held September 30th thru October 6th, aims to protect literature (and readers) from the judgments of a select few.
Targeting The Hunger Games – and Other Modern Book Banning
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is just one recent title that some people have attempted to ban in libraries, schools, and bookstores. I was even asked recently by a parent if I would dare to let my kids read the series, to which I gave a smile and then proceeded to talk about how my kids not only read the books, but attended a book club devoted to the story. I reminded this nervous mother, who had been hearing from other parents how this book might be too violent for kids, that books aren’t inherently bad – it is how we interpret and use them that matters.
Parents use censorship all of the time – we monitor what programs our kids watch on television, we monitor the conversations in which they participate, and we monitor their activities. Book banning and rating, however, mean that someone else gets to choose what is best for your child.
A devout Christian will likely get much more out of The Chronicles of Narnia than will an atheist, because there is Biblical context for the Christian that he applies to the book, while the atheist views it merely as a form of literature. It is the context of life that we provide for our kids that they will use when discerning how a story does or does not relate to them.
Monitoring Book Choices for Kids
If you are concerned about a book selection your child is eager to read, don’t just put the book on the top shelf, out of reach, and walk away (or worse yet – try to ban it so others don’t have access to it).
- Read the books with your kids, either aloud together or each grab your own copy.
- Don’t banish scary stories – research shows that kids benefit from the imaginitive and emotional process when they are exposed to scary stories.
- Talk about the themes, the plots, the characters, and the parallels (if any) to real life.
- Talk about the differences between fiction and non-fiction.
- Find a book club for your kids so they can discuss these ideas among peers.
- Find other books with similar themes that you think are more appropriate and start there, willing to continue to the next level if your child still seems interested.
Famously Banned Books
You can put books like The Hunger Games in the same category of books such as
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Where the Wild Things Are
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- The Call of the Wild
- For Whom the Bell Tolls
- Invisible Man
- The Red Badge of Courage
- And so many more influential pieces of literature
All of these titles were criticized and in some places, banned. Yet, on a historical plane, all of the above titles have contributed to literature as an art and as contributions to humanity. Before you jump on the book banning bandwagon, ask yourself this question.
What is it about my child that worries me in regards to this book?
Maybe it is that your child is not yet mature enough for the plot, not yet sensitive enough for the emotions, or not yet morally grounded enough for the ideas presented. Then consider if the book is really the issue. If a book is going to thwart my child’s development, set his moral compass askew, or threaten what we know and believe about respect, integrity, and relationships, then the book is the least of my concerns.