I am applying to be a World Book Night book giver this year. Basically, if chosen you are sent 20 copies of a book you love, which you then take to a public place to be given away free of charge to people who rarely or never read. It is a thrilling concept - the idea of engaging with people who aren't readers, trying to persuade them to start with a book you have found particularly compelling. I feel a bit conflicted, though. Of the books available this year, hands down the three I love most are also some of the most controversial. The Huger Games and The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian both made the ALA's 2010 Most Frequently Challenged Books list, and Part-Time Indian has already been challenged twice in the past three months (here and here.) In the interest of full disclosure, I could not actually find an instance of The Book Thief being banned, but it is often included in banned books lists, or banned books read-alongs, for the touchy subject matter.
I think choosing any of these books would put me in the much more difficult position of having to not only convince the teen to try the book, but also their parents. I think it would be worth it - these books need to be read for the very reasons they are often challenged. They talk about difficult, gritty, dark things; but kids live through difficult, gritty, dark things all the time. For those who have experienced it, perhaps the books could provide comfort. If the reader is completely unfamiliar with the topics, the books could provide insight into the lives of their peers. They will eventually learn about these things; we cannot keep them sheltered forever. As a parent, I would much rather my child learn about sex as an expression of low self esteem or drug and alcohol abuse from a book rather than experience.
Whenever the topic of censorship and children's or teen's literature comes up, I cannot help but think of my favorite Maurice Sendak quote:
“I said anything I wanted because I don't believe in children, I don't believe in childhood. I don't believe that there's a demarcation. 'Oh you mustn't tell them that. You mustn't tell them that.' You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it's true. If it's true, you tell them.”
So, here is to hoping on the night of April 23 I will be standing in the Mall Food-court convincing teens and parents to give these books a chance.
More information on 2012 World Book Night.
More information Challenged or Banned Books in 2010-2011.