June 03, 2023

COLUMN: I’m with the banned

In an environment where endless information is only a click away, parents and legislators are seemingly more concerned with the content found in the pages of books.

You all know I’m an advocate for reading. Every time I see more books on the “challenged” or “banned” lists, I become more and more shocked with what people find offensive.

There was a point in my childhood where my dad didn’t want me to read Judy Blume’s books because he felt they weren’t age-appropriate for me. I was reading at a higher level, so sometimes books I wanted to read didn’t have appropriate themes for my age.

Let me be clear — I have no issue with that. He is my parent and he had the authority to decide what was best for his daughter.

It’s said best by romance author Jodi Picoult whose books have recently found their way onto banned lists.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with a parent deciding a certain book is not right for her child,” she said. “There is a colossal problem with a parent deciding that, therefore, no child should be allowed to read that book.”

Iowa House Republicans passed a bill earlier this month prohibiting school libraries from including books that are not “age-appropriate,” barring any books that contain sexual content.

It is important to note though they are advertising these bans as targeting books with sexual or explicit themes, there are an overwhelming amount of books with race, religion and LGBTQ content being banned.

Several of Picoult’s books were banned after one parent deemed them “adult romance.”

“It is worth noting I do not write adult romance,” Picoult said of this complaint. “The majority of the books that were targeted do not even have a kiss in them. What they do have, however, are issues like racism, abortion rights, gun control, gay rights and other topics that encourage kids to think for themselves.”

There’s a common theme in books featuring corrupt governments — they control what people are able to read. That message isn’t fictional. In Nazi Germany, they frequently held book burnings.

Legislators will tell you what they are doing is nothing like that. They say they are focused on “parental choice.” But parents have the choice. They had the choice 20 years ago when I was in elementary school, and they still have it today.

If a book you don’t feel comfortable with is on the reading list for your child’s class, tell the teacher. They will work with you. The system is set up for parents to have a choice. When we ban books, we take away the choice for both parents and students.

There are undeniable educational benefits associated with reading. According to the Child Mind Institute, books help children build empathy and learn how to handle challenging feelings.

The Young Readers Foundation lists improvements in memory, school results, analytical skills, confidence and vocabulary as just a few of the benefits correlated to reading.

The fact of the matter is children and young adults are being exposed to sexual, violent and explicit content younger than ever before. But it is not coming from the pages of books. It’s coming from smartphones, televisions, computers and tablets.

Classic books such as “Brave New World” and “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and newer titles, such as the “Gossip Girl” series and “Twilight,” have been on “challenged” lists.

As someone who read all these books before graduating high school, I can assure you they were much more tame than other things I had learned by that time.

While “Brave New World” certainly made me uncomfortable and had sexual themes, it taught me that you need the bad parts of life in order to appreciate the good.

President-hopeful and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been under fire for Florida’s increased ban on books. While he’s referred to it as a “hoax,” Florida is one of 18 states that has passed laws restricting lessons on race and racism, and classroom discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Last year, books were banned in at least 32 states, including Florida, according to a tracker by PEN America, a free speech advocacy organization. Educators and librarians have consistently said it is states’ restrictive laws and potentially harsh penalties that have caused book bans.

Talk to your children. Read with them. Make the choice best for your family, but don’t force others to follow your opinion.

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.