CANDY ALLAN: Banning books in my house

Both my kids like to read. I know, I’m a lucky parent.

Because they like to read, they do it a fair amount and as with anything you spend time practicing, you get better at reading the more you do it. In turn, being decent readers, they tend to want to read “more grown-up” books — or, at least, more challenging books. Which usually are aimed at a somewhat older audience — and so then you get into questions of content and “appropriateness.”

Which leads me to this week. This week, Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, is Banned Books Week. Content and questions of “appropriateness” for a particular age group typically form the basis for complaints about books to school boards or library boards.

I have always been opposed to banning books as a matter of principle. However, as I thought about this topic it occurred to me I’ve “banned” a few in my own home.

While my house has several bookshelves, there’s one particular bookshelf in my bedroom that’s off limits to the kids. Some of the titles are simply books that are special to me, that I don’t want to share until the kids get over grabbing the television remote as a bookmark — NOT good for the spine of a book, when they subsequently push the cover down!

Other books on this shelf are ones I’ve decided the kids shouldn’t read until they’re older. A friend gave me a selection of romance novels, for example. I also have some mysteries in which the crimes are fairly graphically depicted.

So I get it when I look over the titles on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged and/or banned books — many of the reasons involve sexually explicit scenes/dialogue or violence or cultural insensitivity.

And, again — I have effectively “banned” certain books for the time being in my house, for unrealistic expectations of relationships or outright gore, in the case of the books at home.

But I’ll move these books to the “accepted” shelves as the kids get older. Some books, in fact, have already made the cut — all of Agatha Christie’s works, for example, are now fair game. It’s a matter of when I think the kids are able to handle the content, and my estimations may not match yours. That’s fine; you manage your bookshelves, I’ll handle mine.

Simply banning a book for everyone, be it a community or a classroom, serves no purpose. You’re not gauging the maturity of an individual or two; you’re passing judgement on the text itself.

I may give my kids things at a younger age than other parents would, but my theory — which has held true so far — is if I give them something they question, they’re still young enough to come to me for answers. Which, in my opinion, is the object of a book — provoking questions and thoughts on a topic. (Sure, some are simply entertainment reads, but they still make you think about SOMETHING, even if it’s just how nice it would be to run away and join the circus or whatever.)

When my kids are in high school, if their teachers are requiring a certain book and I happen to disagree with its message, I’d like to think I’ll just talk to my kids about my view of the material. I’d like to think I won’t storm the school and demand the book be removed.

After all, by the time they’re in high school, if I’m not teaching them to navigate the world as it is, I’m severely crippling them. I can still attempt to sway them to my worldview, my ideas of right and wrong, but they’re going to have to decide for themselves.

I’d rather it be sooner than later; if it’s sooner, I’m closer to influence the decision.

Let’s be honest, I’ve been making up this parenting thing as I go along ever since my son was born. I know there’s more experienced parents out there and folks with different ideas. Respond to my column by emailing me at callan@pioneergroup.com, and you might see your thoughts in print in an upcoming issue of the Pioneer.

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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