Banned Books Week encourages critical thinking

Audra Kooi — Staff Writer

In 2020, Laurie Halse Anderson found her first novel, Speak, on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books. This wasn’t the first time the novel was publicly criticized, nor would it be the last, but it marked a milestone in being both highly acclaimed and frequently challenged in the young adult circle. This juxtaposition raises an important question: where is the line between good literature and an offensive overview of serious issues?

Challengers to Anderson’s novel criticize it because it covers sexual assault and depicts the rape of the 14-year-old protagonist. Missouri State University professor Wesley Scroggins wrote about Speak in the Springfield News-Leader, classifying the book as “soft pornography.” In Sarasota County, Fla., a middle school parent filed a challenge against Anderson’s novel because he was concerned by the profanity and “graphic description of rape.” A committee formed to review the parent’s challenge, and the members ruled that the book should remain a part of the curriculum as a “guided approach to think about the choices that will face many of [the students] … as they move into high school.”

But Anderson’s Speak is not the only highly acclaimed book that is often challenged. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia have been the subject of countless challenges. In fact, many coming-of-age and young adult novels face challenges because they tend to cover difficult material, and parents have differing standards for what they will allow their children to read. This leaves libraries and schools with difficult decisions. They want to encourage readers’ curiosity and provide them with a variety of perspectives to learn from.

Dordt University’s Hulst Library faces similar choices when choosing what to fill its shelves with.

“Our collection is really tied to what is being taught,” Library Director Jenni Breems said. “We collect banned books in the children’s lit area because we want our education majors to have practice thinking what they would do if a book was challenged in class.”

Controversial topics promote critical thinking and discussion in classrooms; difficult books are good resources so long as they are taught and discussed appropriately.

Every year, the American Library Association hosts a banned book week to raise awareness of the diverse perspectives in the world. This year, that week is Sept. 18 to 24. Its purpose matches the Sarasota County committee’s decision: “Education is key. Censorship is never the answer.”

By raising curiosity and encouraging readers to ask critical questions about books, libraries allow individuals to draw their own line between award-winning and ban-worthy literature.

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