Read a Banned Book! It’s Good For You!

This week is Banned Books Week. It is one of my favorite weeks of the school year and usually, back when I had a classroom, I would bring in all my books from home that have at one time been banned. I would pass them around and have my students examine what they are about, read a few passages and, whether they were or weren’t familiar with the book, guess why it might have been banned. Banned books include classics that have shaped our understanding of ourselves: Grapes of Wrath, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, Invisible Man, The Diary of Anne Frank…. And books that are just fun to read: Harry Potter, Where the Wild Things Are.

And the cap to the exercise? I always read Yertle the Turtle. Did you know that Dr. Seuss is one of the most banned authors? Yep. He was extremely political in a lot of his writing – Yertle being the most obvious with its challenge to authoritarian rule. Then of course there is The Butter Battle on the uselessness of one-upsmanship between countries. And the ever hated Lorax with all of its ‘save the environment!’ pish posh.

Seuss was not shy about the messages in his work. When challenged on whether he was political, he took the words of his book Marvin K Mooney, Please Go Now! and substituted “Richard M. Nixon” in for “Marvin K. Mooney.” It read like this in part:

Richard M. Nixon, will you please go now!
The time has come
The time has come
The time is now.
Just go.
Go.
Go!
I don’t care how.

You can go by foot.
You can go by cow.
Richard M. Nixon, will you please go now!

… Nixon resigned 8 days later after this was published by Art Buchwald.

Obviously, more led to Nixon’s resignation than pressure from Seuss fans. But the truth is universal:

Words. Are. Powerful.

Banned Books Week reminds us that those who wish for us to always follow and not think for ourselves are certainly threatened by the freedom of ideas that books represent. Of course, Ray Bradbury’s famous dystopian world in Fahrenheit 451 (itself a banned book – oh the irony), reminds us that it’s not just the destruction or banning of books that causes society to deteriorate. Bradbury also meant it as a warning about how television and mass media could shorten our attention spans and distract us from growing our brains and practicing critical thinking.

The fact that there are still communities in 21st century America where books are still banned (and even burned) is a clear signal that we still have the task before us to keep our minds open and willing to learn.

So this week, grab a classic, or just take one of your Harry Potters off the shelf and read it – not just for old time’s sake, but because somewhere, sometime, someone said you shouldn’t read it. Isn’t that reason enough?

P.S. Oh, and thank a Librarian this week. They are the ones protecting your right and freedom to read.  Librarians protect us from the ignorance of book banning.

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