When Paper Hits The Road ( a moment of heartbreak)

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My heart lays heavy.

Recently I was asked if I would be interested in being a part of a new group of readers in the area that would preview books to see that they are appropriate for middle grade and teenage children.  I liked the thought of that, I have done some of this proofing for friends in the past.  As the information unfolded I discovered that this group would work at having books that they decided were deemed unsatisfactory for young eyes to be removed from the schools.

:shock:

Visions of book burning swam before my eyes.  This is when I realized there is a difference between book lovers, lovers of the written word – and readers.

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There was a particular book that was already being sought out for removal I was told.  A book filled with inappropriate language. I started to think what YA book could have caused such a stir… was it Hunger Games, Twilight, certainly we have moved beyond Harry Potter by now….

and then I was told the book’s title,

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

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At this point my heart fell.  Steinbeck.  A Classic. Banned Books. Censorship.

I called a friend, a fellow book lover and someone I know who takes great care with what she has her children read (ages 7 – 14) to ask her thoughts on this and she was shocked.  She said what I needed to hear at that moment, that it is up to us as parents of our younger children to help them choose books and to help them understand when a book may not be a fit for them due to language, sexual content…  or EVEN why a book was written that way – perhaps it was the time period…. The answer is not to take the books away…

the answer is not censorship.

Of course, Of Mice and Men is not new to this battle.  Published in 1937, this book is one of the most challenged books of the 21st century due to the vulgarity,offensive, and racist language  within its pages.   And while I am not a fan of the language – the story does cover such topics as friendship and bullying – BULLYING. A topic that is huge today.

Please chime in on this one.  I would love to know your thoughts. 

About Sheila (Book Journey)

Bookaholic * Audio Book Fan *Bike Rider *Rollerblader *Adventure Seeker *Want To Be Runner*Coffee lover *Fitness Fan * Movie junkie

Posted on February 18, 2014, in Book Stuff, Book Thoughts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 59 Comments.

  1. I agree with you. I have children ages 8 and 13 and I supervise what they read, just as I supervise what they watch on TV or what movies they see in a theater.

    They are children. I taken them to the library and to the bookstore. I have never had a problem or a disagreement with them. When books are studied in school, they are almost always classics and age appropriate.

  2. Well, I agree with you. No surprise there! Removing books is wrong, wrong, wrong. Young people mature differently and their parents are best suited to decide what they should and should not read. It’s not the job of an outside group of readers to make that decision.

    We are having this problem right now in my own town. Last year a few parents went to the school board and had Perks of Being a Wallflower removed from the library. The book was eventually returned after public outcry and petitions. But this doesn’t say much for the school board.

  3. I really believe parents should be the ones to assist their children to choose books that are appropriate for them. I don’t believe in censorship but rather education. Educate about the content, discuss with our children, make informed choices.

    • I have a friend who has a 13 year old daughter. She lets the daughter check out anything she wants from the library knowing their family guidelines and what they deem appropriate. She holds that freedom to choose unless she breaks the trust. I love this.

  4. It is up to parents to monitor what their own children read. We are on a slippery slope when we start allowing others to tell us what we can read. What’s next? Letting others tell us what we are allowed to think? to believe? Why we could write a book on this topic! Oh wait, go read The Giver. I believe you will find this topic covered rather nicely there. Yikes!

  5. I’m so saddened by this every time I hear about a case of censorship. I keep picturing nations where reading certain books was outlawed and you could go to jail for reading a certain book. I’m always left wondering what it is these people are so afraid of.

    • I am too Ryan. We have the right to choose what we read or what we don’t read. Just because I am a huge promoter of banned books does not mean that I want to read them all. I do like that I have a choice.

  6. I don’t believe in censoring. I always let Vance read whatever he wanted. Of course, when he was young, I tried to steer him toward books that wouldn’t be too hard and books that I deemed appropriate but I never, ever vetoed a book he wanted to read. If there’s something you don’t like about the book, it’s the perfect time to discuss the topic with your child since they obviously have an interest in it. Banning books baffles me.

    • Well put Kathy. I think there are so many wonderful things to get involved in that are bookish – why choose picking out books to remove? Instead why not promote great books… why not promote what you said – talking with our children, educating them to make good choices.

  7. This is awful. Censhorship doesn’t help. What is required is parents having an open mind and discussing books with their children.

    • Great response. I think adults some times also can use a little education – maybe understanding the nature of the book, the time period, all of this contributes to the language and feel of a book.

  8. Censorship helps no one. Kids should be supervised and guided to appropriate books, sure, but the way to do that is not to remove the books. It’s education. It’s teaching kids to understand why certain things are appropriate at certain ages and certain things aren’t. It’s about encouraging kids to develop good reading habits and age-appropriate preferences. Removing books doesn’t teach them anything, except that parents want to deliberately hide something from them. And kids hate that. Kids hate having something taken from their options without explanation, or worse, with the “because I say so” reasoning.

  9. I honestly don’t know what these censorship people (parents) are afraid of? If we make all the choices for our children, they won’t grow up into free-thinking adults.
    Censorship is just plain wrong.

  10. That is a group I could not be a part of. I don’t want a small population of people deciding what is appropriate for my children and grandchildren to read, Many of these classic novels groups like these are trying to ban or remove are part of the history of our nation and have fantastic life lessons in them. These stories can teach them way more then they will ever harm them. I’m very disturbed that this is happening locally.

  11. I agree, it should be the parent’s job to decide what is appropriate for their children, not some organization or the library. Kids are different and what’s good for one may not be good for another and only parents should decide for their own children. I have banned books for my children at different times and only until they got older. There does come an age where they can decide for themselves but until then, that’s the parent’s job. I’m sorry it was so disappointing. But, I’m glad you turned it down, even if it was a difficult decision.

    • The only thing that made it difficult was that it was happening in the first place. Like one of the other commenters said when it happens in your town it is very sad – you like to think we are beyond that kind of thinking :)

  12. I am going to restrain myself on this topic. I was a children’s librarian in the Bible Belt until a few years ago. This was a constant battle. I always made a big display during Banned Books Week, making a point to display books they never would think could be banned, like the Bible. When Harry Potter came out, we replaced book 1 at least 8 times. Censorship by theft was a favorite method. This was true of many books. I had someone come in to research Darwin and hadn’t realized all three of our books were gone. They had never been checked out, so were most likely taken as soon as they were put on the shelves. When I put up directional signs in the teen section of our small library, I had two irate women pounding on the circulation desk demanding to know why I had “Graphic Novels” in the children’s section. I asked them if they even knew what graphic novels were and of course they had no idea.
    I do not believe everything should be available to everyone, but to restrict what another person can read because it isn’t to your taste is wrong. It is the parents’ responsibility to monitor and guide what their children read. I didn’t always agree with what some children were reading, but I couldn’t stop them. A 13 year old checking out hard core romance isn’t appropriate, but I asked her mother if she knew what was in the books, she did, and had no problem with it. Often kids under 10 would go to the YA section to check out books their teen siblings were reading. I would try to direct them to something similar but at their reading level. They didn’t realize they weren’t old enough to really “get” the story and would enjoy it so much more if they waited a few years.
    There was a big uproar a few years ago when a dad tried (or succeeded) in getting SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson removed from the school libraries. He felt it wasn’t appropriate because it dealt with rape of a teen and her recovery. He was doing exactly what the book dealt with: trying to hush it up and not rock the boat with a frank discussion and punishment for the aggressors.

    Well, so much for not going on a rant. I could go on, but won’t. The parents you are dealing with on the committee are a major problem. They are becoming more of a problem in communities across the country and are able to have their agenda passed. They are getting the the history and science books changed (which is criminal).

    I’ll stop now. Please try to influence this group or form another group to counter them.

    • First of all – Hi Pat! :) You probably know I set up big banned books displays too for banned books week. Funny though, I had not thought of censorship by theft. :shock:

      I appreciate your input Pat, and where you end your comment is where I am at…do I just say no or do I try to get in and speak to them… I feel I know the answer which leads me to another question… do I have the time or energy? I know I should.

  13. I hope that in addition to turning down this group, you will warn others in your community (actual or virtual) about them. While they have every right to monitor their own children’s reading and help them make choices that fit their values, they cannot force those choices and values upon others. Fortunately, I have had to (more delicately) explain this to a parent only a few times during my 17-year tenure as a middle school librarian. And each time, the conversation has stopped right there; thankfully, I have seen no formal book challenges. The book Of Mice and Men was challenged at our high school in 2003, as it was part of the English curriculum. The decision was made to uphold the book but offer alternative titles to parents/students who were uncomfortable with it,

    • Great comment – and that is where I am at – how do I speak into this group to help them see that this is not the answer. I agree, if a parent does not want their child to read something then that is between them – but they should not be allowed to speak for everyone.

  14. I wonder if the same people who are so quick to burn books would be as quick to burn the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition which is essentially Playboy at the supermarket checkout. It’s not up to the school to REMOVE books, but I do think parents should be informed if there’s something questionable a young person wants to read that may be inappropriate so the parent is aware and can make that decision.

    • That is good thinking as well. In schools mandatory reading should be included in some sort of communication with the parent by mail or by email – or many schools now have internet sights where parents can pop on , see not only their child’s grade but also what the class is working on.

  15. I hate censorship when it comes to books. It amazes me that a book can go on a shelf for years and years and then all of a sudden someone doesn’t like something in it and they get it banned. I have never read Of Mice and Men, but it just irks me when they mess with classics! I don’t have kids but I think it’s up to each individual parent to monitor what they want their children to read..not one spoiling it for everyone.

  16. I will go even further…I always read way more than my reading/grade level. Its because many odd years ago, I had read my library out!. Granted this was when I was in elementary and middle school, but I don’t feel this harmed me in any way. I’m a bit more selective when I read now, only because of my time, not because of appropriateness. To each his own. Every parent needs to monitor, not SOMEONE else!

  17. Censorship is a form of bullying. There have been books banned since there have been books.

    Have never forgotten my summer of “The Last Temptation of Christ”. Being a rural pastor then, I missed out on the movie, but was appalled at the protests. So….I got the book, written a very long time ago by Nikos Kastinzakas, and amist all the news of ‘the riots’ over the movie, I made my way through a very wonderful book of the struggle with one Greek Orthodox man over his orthodoxy! That’s not “bannable”, its human!

    I did get to see the film back in the Twin Cities JUST before it was “shelved” for HBO release and VHS production. The movie, just like the book, was one man’s struggle( Martin Scorsese’s) with his faith. He’d been so moved by the book that he developed it as a struggle with Roman Catholicism’s rules over praxis. But people got so hung up over the idea that Jesus might have been human that they couldn’t see the WHOLE PICTURE.

    Even my “used vhs purchase” reflected that. People rented the movie, got to the “s-e-x” scene, rewound it there a few times, and some people did the same at other parts ( there was definite wear in three parts of the tape….).

    People are like sheep….if it sounds what journalism calls “sexy” ( a story that sells advertizing or papers) it become the lead. The Bible was banned, Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace were attempted bans in my High School. That the parents attempting the ban may not have even READ THE BLESSED BOOK before they jump on the bandwagon seems to be forgotten….

    Ignorance is intolerable…..educate don’t ban.

  18. No no no :( This is heartbreaking!! How can this still be going on in this day and age?? Why do people feel the need to constantly police others? Is it up to anyone else what my kid reads? NO.

    Ugh, I could go on and on but I think I’ll go weep instead.

  19. Who appointed them God? I think one reason I did well in school was that my parents were readers and they let me read anything I was interested in reading. If I chose wrong and didn’t understand because of my young age, I figured that out for myself and just didn’t read the rest of it. Bless my good parents.

  20. Sheila, your post reminded me of a couple that I wrote years ago, so I am re-sharing them on my blog…
    http://thefridayfriends.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-answer-is-not-censorship.html

  21. This is so sad! Do you think the group would be receptive to having a member who disagreed with them? Who would talk about the books and defend them? If they seem open to listening, maybe you could do some good talking to them? I have no idea… it seems like people who want to remove books don’t really take well to logical arguments sometimes.

  22. I may put my foot in it here, but … I really think that once a reader is able to show interest in any type of printed media, they should have access … total access. Now I can hear parents going, ” but but but … ” and I will say to them watch what comes through the back door and read it along with your kid. Discuss it, talk about the issues that the book addresses, and be as non-judgemental as possible (as far as your kid is concerned). Let your kid think for him/herself. Chances are your values will prevail if you let your kid see that you trust their thoughts and reading choices. Chances are your kid will challenge you with a few shockers, but as long as you read them and talk about why they’re offensive to you or society or a particular social group, etc, your kid will respect that and think about it and probably come around. If they don’t … that’s their prerogative. I know. Some folks are saying, “Yeah, right!” But I will say that as a teacher for over ten years, I have let kids choose what they want to read, what they think they want to read, and what they feel pressured to read. Nine times out of ten, when I’ve honest conversation with them about their reading choices they realize when a book is ‘too mature’ because they don’t get, too hard because they have too many questions about it, or is ‘just right’ when they have stuff to say about the plot and the characters and the issues.

    Do I think Lady Chatterley’s Lover belongs in an elementary library? Come on, no (see statement above about kids not ‘getting it’), but should ‘The Giver’ be there, yup. How ’bout the middle school library … should ‘Of Mice and Men’ be there? Are kids at that age looking at race and gender bias? Are kids starting to figure out sexual politics? Yup and yup. Will a ‘higher reader’ ber ready for that book? Yup, yup, and yup. Does it open an avenue for parents and kids to discuss … oh, yeah! Okay… I could rant further … but you asked for input…. censorship is not the answer … ever. IMO.

    • Great comment here – I appreciate your insight as a teacher. Parental involvement and keeping an “open door policy” is key. I love how you said to trust your kids to make good choices and perhaps the values we have installed in them will shine through.

  23. Sheila, I don’t envy your position. We’re behind you!

    This is such a huge topic. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Right off the bat I want to say that I do not think Of Mice and Men should be banned! I fully agree that it has to be the parents that monitor their own children.

    Here’s where I struggle as a parent of five children. How can a parent actually pre-read everything their child is reading? Especially if you have voracious readers! It may not have been such a problem in year’s past because erotica wasn’t mainstream. Seriously, when one of my children made a comment about Shades of Grey last year, I was mortified. And why shouldn’t they know about it? It was at the front of every bookstore, in all the newscasts, and was the talk of the bookworld. Now we see erotica in the mainstream.

    Yes, I need to teach my children why that is inappropriate for them and I do. The same way I teach them about pornography on the internet. But I can use an internet filter for that. But, how can I know what is in every book?

    I think we should have some kind of rating system for books similar to the way we do movies and tv. NO! I don’t want some big government entity rating books….but can’t the bookworld take on that task? And I certainly don’t want a big rating stuck on the front of book covers. EEK! But, how about a little rating on the copyright page at the bottom. Something inconspicuous.

    If there were a book that I didn’t know about I could check the rating like I do for movies. Then, if it had a high rating, I could read it first. But, I wouldn’t have to read all the pg-13 ratings. KWIM? There has to be a compromise somewhere in this heated topic. Yes, I don’t want book banning, but we have to balance that with reality. Is there some way we can help parents with this overwhelming task of helping their kids choose books that are appropriate for them?

    The problem here is that the parents have little to no control over what their children check out at the school library….so they want to make sure that the books in the library are appropriate. They want the school to be a filtering system. If we gave parents more control over what the kids check out, I don’t think it would be as much of a problem.

    I don’t have that problem because my kids use the public library. I have the problem that I can’t pre-read everything and my children can check out anything. (At least I rarely say no.)

    If you had a basic rating system, I don’t think the sales for books would go down–just like sales for R rated movies haven’t gone down. It’s not a perfect tool; it’s just a starting point. And wouldn’t that make banning books less likely?

    Sheila this has been a great thread. I’ve enjoyed the discussion.

    • Thanks Heidi – this is a great comment! I like the idea of the little rating on the copyright page to give parents and even adults for adult books to know what they are getting to…. like movies. I think where the opportunity lies for is with the parents of the children because what one may think is totally inappropriate fr their child, as you see in the comments here, others do not. Neither group is wrong – the wrong comes in when we think that because we do not think it is appropriate for our children – that it should not be available for ANY. Egads… this is exactly why I love banned book week so much. :D

    • I actually love the idea of a rating system, but can’t imagine it would ever happen :( The closest (as far as I know) to that now is simply the separation in the departments in a bookstore or library AND the libraries don’t always separate Middle Grade from Young Adult.

      In publishing, part of what determines which age group a book belongs in, is the content. Usually, but not always, the age of the protagonist is within the appropriate age group the book is targeted toward.

      Typically, anything in an age group from Chapter Books and under are 100% G-rated. Generally, Middle Grade level (8-12 years old) are the same and you will virtually never see/hear of anything that would be considered truly inappropriate (a subjective word) unless it comes down to a belief system that objects to content, i.e., witchcraft in relation to Christianity. You will, in MG, come across content that some may consider inappropriate depending on what the opinion is as to what is “too” violent, etc. There are many (foolish, imo) people who feel children of any age shouldn’t be reading subject matter about the many problems in the world—things like death, or a child being hit physically—as though young people don’t know death or even spanking exists. (Huh?!!!)

      When you hit the newly labeled “Tween” market (12-14) you are now in that blurred space that transitions to Young Adult. There is, as of now, no actual separation on the shelves for this age group and they can end up in either one, whether the decision is made due to “questionable” content or the age of the MCs, but the content is still typically “soft”.

      Young Adult (15-18) books often contain subject matter that’s sexual and violent, and can be very graphic. Sometimes it’s the subject matter itself—the theme of the book—that is considered meant for a more mature young person, i.e., the detailed horrors of war, and are not necessarily inappropriate in other ways.

      I am a more conservative thinker, so I can’t see most YA or Adult fiction in the hands of MG-age readers, but I hear of it often enough. What we, as parents, consider appropriate for children at whatever age is as individual as we are. That’s where censorship causes a problem, I think. To me, in schools, the librarians should know the content of the books on the shelves and should be made aware—by the parents—if restrictions should be placed. Then these questionable or want-to-be-banned books can stay on premises to be available for the students whose parents don’t object and the librarian is relieved of the responsibility on that level.

      Anyway, that’s how I see it. Also, I just Googled it, and there are sites and blogs on the web that help as tools for parents to monitor the type content in books their kids want to read.

      http://tinyurl.com/ldtuwpm

      Here’s one site I saw mentioned somewhere:

      https://sites.google.com/site/parentalbookreviews/home

  24. I read Of Mice and Men in school and I still remember it today not because of the content but the sorrow I felt for the injustice and loss experienced by the characters. It’s a powerful book.

    I don’t believe in censorship. After all, there are parts of the Bible that are quite graphic and disturbing but with study and maturity they can be understood. As a parent, I believe it is my responsibility to teach my kids what is appropriate so they can decide what they want to read or not. I think content rating is helpful because some topics and language are not appropriate for everyone. But it goes both ways, just like I don’t believe in censorship neither do I believe kids should be required to read certain books that make them uncomfortable. There should always be a choice.

  25. My heart would also lay heavy – I hate the thought of restricting books from kids. Of Mice and Men was a book I loved with a lot of great lessons and an interesting story to boot, would never ban that one either.

  26. I despair when I hear about situations like this. Often the people campaigning for a certain book to be restricted are doing so because they have this rosy tinted view of childhood as a time of innocence that needs to be protected, yes there are parameters but what they seem to want is to surround children in cotton wool which means they never learn for themselves.

  27. This is so sad that other people feel that they have the right to control what someone else’s child can read. As a parent it is up to me to decide what is appropriate for my children to read, watch, or listen to.

    My 9yo daughter is an advanced reader and is not challenged enough with the level of books they are reading in school. I encouraged her to read The Hunger Games. Now some people would say she is too young and that it is a totally inappropriate book for her to be reading. But as the parent, I know what she is able to handle. I know that she will ask questions if she has them, and I know that if she didn’t understand or didn’t like it then she would stop reading.

    I always read/watch/listen to something first if I am unsure of the suitability to my children. It is something that each parent should be able to do not a group of people who are just out to create controversy.

    • I totally agree – as a parent we have full right to assist our children in what we feel is good reading for them… it gets messy when we try to tell other parents what their kids should be reading or not reading. :)

      • As this thread continues, I keep wanting to throw more stuff out there lol

        The way I see it, there are two (maybe more?) factions within the censorship groups: those who want to protect their OWN kids, and those who want to protect kids, generally. Censorship is based on the latter, but I’m sure there are a good number of people who try to use censorship as a tool to protect their OWN kids.

  28. I admit I didn’t read all the comments here because there are many. I am completely against censorship in theory. I completely agree that parents need to be the ones to decide what is appropriate for their child. They need to be engaged in what their child is reading so that they can talk about it. To help the child understand what they have read. What worries me though, is that there are parents out there who don’t or can’t do this. Should a 10 year old be allowed to read Steinbeck with no one there to put it in context? I don’t know what the answer is. To be clear, I am never on the side that wants to burn books or thinks they are bad or should be censored. But I would worry about young minds reading something they are not capable of understanding and taking the message in the wrong way. Interesting topic.

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