Y.A. for Grownups is a weekly series in which we talk about Y.A. literature—from the now nostalgia-infused stories we devoured as kids to more contemporary tomes being read by young people today.
The American Library Association recently released its list of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2011. Included in that list, along with classics like Brave New World and To Kill a Mockingbird, were newer books allegedly threatening the hearts and minds of our youth—like the Gossip Girl books and Lauren Myracles's ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r series, and, of course, The Hunger Games trilogy, deemed "anti-ethnic" and "anti-family" as well as insensitive and featuring offensive language, violence, and "occult/satanic" elements. The Hunger Games had already been on the American Library Association's list, but the popularity of the movie and, in particular, charges of racism against it seem to have ratcheted up the "need" to ban it in the minds of censors, which has resulted in a move in the rankings from fifth to third. (Oddly, the charges of racism seem to have come from the fact that people reading and watching it are upset certain characters are black—reflecting not racism in the book but in the readers, a fact that, like many, seems lost on the book banners.)
But a popular book being banned comes as no surprise: People have been fighting to ban any number of young adult and children's books for a variety of reasons for years, and as helicopter parenting persists there's no doubt that the "banning" of books that are controversial, deal with complicated subjects, are challenging to young readers, and probably resonate on a deeper level—meaning they're actually popular enough to inspire fights against them—will continue. But here's the ironic and wonderful thing that the book censors don't seem to have realized: banning books doesn't, in fact, hurt them much at all. If anything, it may even inspire more interest in them, and sometimes sales, too.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
- Forever; Deenie; Blubber; and Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret? by Judy Blume
- In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
- Go Ask Alice (Anonymous)
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
- The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
- Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
- A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
- The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
So many familiar names and covers, almost like old friends. In fact, from 1990 to 1999, an era in which we were reading Y.A. avidly, the majority of our favorite books might have been sourced directly from the banned books "top 100" list—the honor of number 1 on that list, for the record, goes to Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories series. Not only were these books ones we read intently, and over and over again, they were the books that taught us important things.
But on the negative side, the people who suffer most from the banned books list are, sadly, some of the people most invested in getting kids to read: teachers and librarians, for instance, who have to deal with what Stine calls "unwanted parental pressure." We spoke to Brooklyn children's librarian Rita Meade, who told us, "First of all, librarians, as a general rule, are not big fans of censorship. In fact, it kind of flies in the face of everything that librarians are supposed to stand for. It's not surprising to me that The Hunger Games is on the ALA banned books list, although it is unfortunate—but only in the sense that it might reduce access to the book (if a school takes it off the shelves, for example) and, more importantly, it shows that people are seemingly afraid or unwilling to have conversations with their children about what they are reading."
Meade sagely recommends that instead of "shoving these books under the proverbial rug, parents should let kids read what they want and talk honestly and openly to them about any 'controversial' issues that may arise." She adds that a book being added to a censored list simply means she'll only fight harder to get it into the hands of kids because it means the book has an important message along with being just entertaining. "Overall, I see it as my job to make sure that kids have access to the books they want to read, even if I don't necessarily agree with the content," she said. "We as librarians want to encourage literacy, not discourage it." And that means letting kids read the books that matter to them, regardless of the activity of censors.