Let's take a moment to channel our inner Salt-N-Pepa:
Let's talk about banned books baby
Let's talk about you and me
Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be
Let's talk about it
Because book banning is about you and me. Well, let's face it, especially me, since I'm an author, but the reality is that book banning affects everyone. Especially young people. So, if you've got kids or if you'd simply like to retain the right to read whatever you want, now is a good time to really think about why so many people and legislators seem to be a on book banning tear right now.
A few months ago, I wrote about what Footloose taught us about banning books. Now I'm back at it because I cannot make sense of why in the world some people would want to prevent readers from learning about other people, cultures, and situations they might not otherwise ever experience.
But let's set that aside for a moment and focus on some actual books that are being banned. Here are a few of my favorite banned books and a little about what they mean to me.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
Way back in 1995, my mom and I drove from New Jersey to LA. Before we left, I went to the library to look for books on tape. They didn't have many, so I just borrowed what was available. I'd never heard of Maya Angelou before.
We drove through the South mesmerized by Maya Angelou's voice as she wove an amazing autobiographical story about trauma, racism, resilience, love, and hope. We cried as we drove through the great plains, periodically turning to each other and saying, "wow." I will never forget that beautiful story or Maya Angelou's voice guiding us on that journey.
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak has one of the best openings I've ever read. It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.
The main character has been ostracized because she called the police at a party over the summer. She's lonely, scared, and traumatized. [SPOILER] The reader ultimately learns she called the police because she was raped at the party.
This book is a beautiful look inside a traumatized teen who does not speak because trauma took her voice.
The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
I read this book shortly after it was published in the 80's. It's about a dystopian future in which a religious regime forces women to become handmaids who are raped to breed. Although right about now with the current assault on a woman's right to make medical decisions about her own body, it doesn't feel too dystopian, which is likely why so many legislators want it banned.
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
I don't know in what grade this book was assigned to me, but I know I had to read it for school. I grew up in a 99% white town and this book was a way for me to learn about racial inequality, class, gender roles, and a serious trial in an engaging way.
I remember feeling such gratitude for Boo Radley for saving Scout and Jem and also enormous compassion as I wondered what it might have been like to be him or Tom Robinson living in that town at that time.
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is about a Starr, Tupac-obsessed Black teenage girl who lives in a poor neighborhood and attends private school in a rich neighborhood. When she and her best friend, Khalil, get pulled over by the police, Khalil is shot and Starr is traumatized and caught between two worlds.
After reading this book, I gave a copy to my friend's 14-year-old son who was an avid reader. He was shocked to learn about police violence against Black people and mystified by Starr's code switching when at home and at school.
The Hate U Give was a wonderful way to teach him (and me) about what it might feel like to be a Black kid in our society. That is priceless.
So, back to the question, why would legislators want to ban books and prevent people from learning about other people, cultures, and situations they might now otherwise ever experience through books? Books create understanding, empathy, compassion, and connection.
I think we need to take a long, hard look at the legislators who want to ban books and ask ourselves, "How do I really feel about these people? What are their motives? Why would they do that?"
What do you think? And what banned books do you love? And why?