Banned book week struck close to home this month. A kindly older woman named JoAn Karkos (who I happen to know) walked into the Auburn and Lewiston Libraries and took out all the copies of “It’s Perfectly Normal.” If you’d like more on the story here is a link to MaineToday.com. Here is an open letter to JoAn:
You are not the first person to disagree with the contents of a book. Hundreds of books have been challenged, stolen and burned in order to keep them out of the hands of readers. Generally, it doesn’t work. It didn’t work in this case either, where Candlewick publishing donated more books to the library and public support skyrocketed.
My friend Heather who is studying for her Masters of Library Science says, people who steal books from the library tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they are folks who are well meaning, those who want to protect us all and limit what we read. (These people often do not even read the books in question.) Or they are kids whose parents will not give them the information they need and crave. She hopes the second group keeps the books. You should give yours back.
Here’s the thing. You cannot make the choices for the rest of us. If you don’t want your grandchildren to get a hold of this book- fine. I should warn you, that your grand children will get the information anyway, and probably the book, without your guidance. Some say that I would be on the other side of this issue if the book in question were let’s say, creationist, racist, homophobic, or anti-semitic. I don’t think so. I think that we have a right to read and have access to all points of view. Even if we disagree with it. This includes children.
My son just finished the Newberry Award Winning, Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli. The main character is homeless in town split on racial lines. Where does he belong? Where is the place he can call home? He experiences both black and white racism that is sometimes violent. Now, I’ll admit. There were sections of the book that I didn’t want to share with my eight year old. Sections that made my stomach tighten because I was afraid that exposing him to those ideas would rob him of some innocence that he has. But here is what happened. We read it together. We talked. He told me how wrong it was to judge someone by how they look on the outside. He said it was more important to know who they are on the inside. My six year old chimed in to say that we are all look the same on the inside anyway. Same heart and lungs and tummy. And then I took a deep breath and realized that my children are becoming the people I always hoped to raise. People who are smart, tolerant, open-minded, sensitive and interested in art and literature.
My personal policy with my children is that if they are able to read it, and they want to read it, they should. My kids are young enough that I’d like them to show me what they are reading so I can assist them with the concepts in the book. I know they won’t always do this and I can tell you that I remember sneaking down the stacks to view “The Joy of Sex” in my teen years.
Well, I know this won’t change your mind, but maybe it will make it easier for me to talk to you when we pass. Happy Banned Books Week.