Banned books are a sign of an oppressive regime. That said, forcing age-inappropriate reading materials on youngsters not ready to deal with the material -- and doing so just for the sake of a bigger principle -- is just as oppressive. Enter the American Library Association.
The ALA reports that between 2009 and 2010 there were three instances of school library book bans. With Banned Books Week commemorated during the last week of September, it is only fitting to review the appropriateness of book bans in school libraries.
While I do not believe that a book should be banned from a public library, I do see the logic of declaring some reading material off-limits in the school setting.
The one and only reason to ban books from a school library? They're not age-appropriate.
I have no problem with religious, political or even some adult situations in books placed in school libraries. In fact, I believe that exposing kids to a variety of lifestyles, viewpoints, beliefs and politics is a good thing -- as long as it is done in small, age-appropriate doses on a voluntary basis. I do, however, object to children being made to read books that are not appropriate for their emotional or intellectual maturity level.
Take for example The Fashion Disaster that Changed My Life, a thoroughly enjoyable book by Lauren Myracle. Amazon quotes the School Library Journal, which rates it as appropriate for grade four to seven. The story's 12-year-old protagonist experiences a static, cling-induced fashion faux pas as she enters seventh grade with her mom's panties stuck to her pants.
For me, the problem begins on page five, when one of the boys leers, "Strip show, baby!" and "Take it all off!" A few pages later the same boy suggests to the hapless protagonist to "get a job at the Pussycat Palace" because "you could get paid to take off your undies."
I really, really don't want my fourth-grade son or daughter reading this. (In part, because I really do not want to explain to either of them what a stripper is and why some people pay others to take off their clothes. At least not in fourth grade.) Thus, I would like to see this book banned from school library shelves accessible to kindergarten students and other very young elementary school kids.
Can't we trust the ALA to look out for the kids?
The short answer is a resounding "no." As outlined in the ALA's materials for how to conduct a challenge hearing, the organization advises librarians that, "All those selected to testify should be reminded they are defending a principle more than an individual title. The actual title in question should play a secondary role. It is very difficult to disagree with the freedom to read, view and listen in a democratic society."
Unless you are willing to sacrifice your child at the altar of political correctness, it may be wise to question the age-appropriateness of some books.