SPEAKing Out: My thoughts on book banning

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Last Friday I started reading a book that’s been in my To Read stack for a few months: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. I’d heard nothing but praise for this book, as well as admiration among other kidlit authors for Anderson. I knew it was a Have To Read book.

Imagine my surprise then on Sunday when I learned via Twitter that the book is being challenged.

Immediately, I scoured the interwebs to figure out what the hubbub was about. If you don’t know yet, you can read Anderson’s post about the challenge here. And you can read the letter Wesley Scroggins wrote to the News-Leader of Springfield, Missouri that started the whole thing here.

I wasn’t going to blog on this topic, simply because there are other authors saying exactly what I would say and saying it more eloquently than I ever could. In particular, this post from Myra McEntire, and this one from Veronica Roth. As a Christian and a kidlit and YA writer, I wholeheartedly agree with what these brave women posted.

However, as I thought more about the subject, I realized I had a thing or two to say as well.

So, along with agreeing with Myra and Veronica, I’d like to add the following thoughts.

First, if you allow one book to be banned, then any book can be banned. And depending on who is in authority and which direction the political/religious/societal winds are blowing, that banned book could be your book or the book that changed your life.

I doubt Mr. Scroggins has considered this. Somehow I don’t think he’d like to see his favorite books on the banned list. He’d probably argue there isn’t anything offensive in the books he reads. Well, maybe not here in America. But elsewhere in the world they’d risk being banned. He’d probably argue that we don’t live elsewhere in the world, to which I’d answer, EXACTLY. Let’s keep America free, OK? There’s a first amendment for a reason.

Second, while I am squarely opposed to book banning, I am in favor of self-censoring. If you have a problem with alcohol, it’s best you avoid bars. If reading about date rape turns you on, maybe it’s best you don’t read Speak. Maybe it’s also a good idea to talk about this issue with a professional. But the point is this: if you can’t handle the content or don’t want the content in your head, DON’T READ IT. However, just because you find a book objectionable doesn’t mean you should make that judgment for everyone else. Everyone has their issues, and everyone should know their own boundaries.

Thirdly, in his letter, Mr. Scroggins calls on parents to get involved, to which I say, ABSOLUTELY. Read with your kids. Read ahead of your kids. If a book deals with subject matter your kid isn’t ready for, hold off on reading it or don’t read it at all. If your kid wants to read a book with controversial material, read it with her and talk about the subject.  Teens are facing a lot of issues these days, whether or not parents want to acknowledge them. Wouldn’t you rather walk alongside your child and navigate those uglier life issues together?

Finally, I doubt Mr. Scroggins considered the impact his challenge would have on Speak (or the other books he found objectionable). Telling kids they can’t read a book will make that book all the more tantalizing. So, sorry Mr. Scroggins, but by challenging Speak, you’ve probably just provoked an entire student body to want to read it, even if they weren’t remotely interested in reading it before.

During my googling on book banning this morning, I came across the following quote from Oscar Wilde. I think it sums up my attitude toward book banning quite nicely:

‎”The books that the world find immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”



4 thoughts on “SPEAKing Out: My thoughts on book banning

    amy mclane said:
    September 20, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Great post, Amy. Excellent job of putting things in perspective.

    Jenifer S. said:
    September 20, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Fabulous post, Amy!

    tahliaN said:
    September 20, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    Great post and that quote from Oscar Wilde – so true true true

    Amy K. Nichols said:
    September 21, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Thanks. I don’t usually get outspoken on here, but this really raised my hackles.

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