On the Wisdom of Banning Books (Hint: There Isn't Any)

Jerome Middle School was recently embroiled in a censorship battle. The book in question was a Japanese light novel/manga (also known as graphic novel or comic depending on what year you were born). I’m weighing in as an author, board member of the Idaho Writers Guild, Boise Public Library volunteer, former writer-in-residence appointed by the Boise Department of Arts and History as part of their Artist-in-Residence program, and mother of two.
When the appropriateness of a book’s place on a library shelf comes into question, the parties involved would be well served to consider the following in terms of what they hope to accomplish:
▪  Banning a book only serves to increase interest in that particular title. This is why banned books become best sellers. Censoring a book from a library does not make the book go away. It only makes it more desirable.
▪  Manga, graphic novels or comics often serve as the bridge between nonreaders and chapter books. Young people who struggle with reading or an interest in reading often transform into avid readers after discovering this type of media. Consider the following from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity:
Graphic novels provide struggling readers with a way of strengthening their vocabularies, build their reading confidence, and foster their appreciation of story. Graphic novels can also help support a reader’s understanding of everything from Greek Mythology to Shakespeare. (http://dyslexia.yale.edu/EDU_KidsCantWait.html)
▪  The legacy left by a crusader against any book is not a positive one. It communicates distrust in youth and a misguided effort to dictate based on personal preferences. Censors place themselves in league with those who railed against To Kill a Mockingbird and Where the Wild Things Are, no matter how one might try to tell oneself “this case is different.”
▪  Children deserve far more credit than we afford them. Their ability to process media and its commentary on society is considerable. To assume less of them or think that they will be corrupted from something on their library shelf is a disservice to them and the entire system of education.
▪  Conversation is far more effective than attempting to control the words and images young people encounter. Acknowledging issues of concern can lead to healthy and open discussion. Trying to restrict children to the parts of the world that suit an individual is an exercise in futility, willful denial of the reality of modern adolescent life and an act of suppression that breeds contempt.
Before we, as adults, object to the content our youth consume, we must strive for perspective, clarity and understanding. Further, we must remind ourselves of what censorship truly does (and does not) achieve.
As printed in the Idaho Statesman


  1. I fully agree that no book should be banned. Ever.

    However, do you think parents have a right to make house rules about age requirements about reading certain subject matter the way they might also have rules regarding tv, movies, or youtube content? Just as I will not allow my 10 year old to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Fifty Shades of Gray, or the like, I would tend to feel pretty strongly about the same kiddo reading Stephen King horror novels or 50 Shades. I would never ask that those novels be banned from our library, but he isn't going to be bringing those home on my watch with his card yet (or till living on his own power when it comes to 50).

  2. Of course parents have the right to make house rules about what they think is acceptable at certain ages. That's a different issue than someone trying to get fiction removed from a school library entirely because they disapprove. There are far better ways in which we can use our energy to serve youth.