A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Banned Books Week

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 26th, 2014

On Wednesday, right in the middle of Banned Books Week, a mom and her four children came in to the store. As we were ringing them up, we were talking about content in an adult book one of her high schoolers wanted to read. The mom was explaining where she draws the line for her teens, and her middle-grade daughter piped up. “They just banned a whole bunch of books today at school. Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Fault in Our Stars and all the other John Green books….”

I said, “They banned those books?! Here?? During Banned Books Week?!?”

“Yeah.”

The adults in the store, including me, were starting to vibrate with outrage. I asked, “Did they say why they were banning them?” She said, “No, they just announced the titles. They said there’s a display of them.”

The lightbulb went on. “Ohhhhh,” I said, putting down the pen I had taken up to write down all the banned titles. “Do you think they were maybe saying that all of these books had been banned in other places, and they had created a Banned Books display?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe.”

I recommended that she double-check at school the next day. A little later in the afternoon, when the store had a lull, I called over to the school and chatted with the librarian. She confirmed that she had, indeed, spoken with the 7th and 8th graders about banned books. She said, “I only had three minutes to talk with each class. I told them that sometimes people ban books because they don’t like what’s in them, and I mentioned our display in the library.” It was clear that, however articulately the message had been delivered (and she was very simple and clear when she explained her brief talk to me), it had confused at least one student. We both laughed, and she assured me that she was definitely NOT banning any books from her school, and she said she would revisit the middle-graders with her message in support of the freedom to read.

It seemed an ironic way for Banned Books Week to unfold, and made me think again about how easy it is both to underestimate what children take in and understand and, as in this case, to assume they have more historical/cultural context than they actually do. A good reminder for a week we take for granted as a national staple.

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