The English Dept. at ISU has a long history of supporting the right to read. In keeping that tradition, I will be participating in Milner Library's Banned Book Week reading Wednesday, Sept. 29. I'm planning on reading a selection from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, which is often cited among the top books that parents or community members wish to be banned from a classroom, school or library. Yet, it is also one of the most celebrated American books of the last century.
The American Library Association, which is one of the sponsors of Banned Book Week, is highlighting To Kill a Mockingbird. Here's an excerpt from why the book has been banned:
The American Library Association website features a fraction of the controversy. For instance, the book was temporarily banned in Eden Valley, Minn., in 1977 because it contained the words "damn" and "whore lady." In 1995, the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, La., yanked the book out of its stacks because of "objectionable" content.
Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center based in Alabama, has a good article explaining some of the instances when people have tried to ban To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Christian Science Monitor notes that many of the books that have been attempted to have been banned in 2009 were brought up by people living in Pennsylvania and Texas. Here's the list of the ALA's 100 most challenged books. As a note, just because a book may have been challenged, that does not mean the book then was banned. Most schools and libraries take the challenges seriously and send it through a detailed committee hearing process.
The ISU English Dept.'s encouragement of the Freedom to Read was started by Taimi Ranta, an English Dept. professor who was a leader in children's literature and nationally known as a source for information about Banned Books. For more than a decade, the English Dept. organized its own Banned Book Reading night, which was inspired by Dr. Ranta.
In thinking about banned books, it's important that teachers know exactly why they are teaching a book -- why it's worthwhile, why students should read it. If the book may be controversial, it's okay for a teacher to have a back-up if a parent objects. But keep in mind, so many books are published each year and so many are available -- the idea is to encourage children, teens and adults to read.