Thursday, November 10, 2011

The worth of words

A few weeks ago, I finished "A Day No Pigs Would Die" by Robert Newton Peck.  It's a short, young adult novel, which was was lent to me by a friend.  I skimmed the cover and back - "life-changing", it informed me - and began reading with gusto.

While I wouldn't say it was life-changing, I'd definitely agree that it was a worthwhile book.  It was really hard, somewhat gut-wrenching, but beautiful at the same time.  Weighty and sad, but satisfying - do you know the feeling?  After messaging my friend - "really hard, but really good" - I decided to do a bit of research about the book.  (I'm a nut about that.  Immediately after watching a movie, I'm on IMDB, looking up facts and trivia.  Jordan thinks it's ridiculous.)

I was shocked to find out that this book made the American Library Association's list for "most-challenged books" - it was 16th for the 1990's! 
Now, I can understand why it would be challenged - the book takes place on a farm in the mid-1920's.  Peck describes the mating and slaughtering of pigs in fairly graphic detail.  There was a point or two when I raised my eyebrows. 

BUT - and notice that's a big but - I can't believe that these details, which were relatively minor as far as the story goes, were enough to make people think that this story should never be read again.  To discredit the power of the story, over a few paragraphs about pigs?  Like I said, it shocked me - and made me think about the danger of censorship.

I think there are levels of censorship that can be applied to literature:

Some attempted censorship is completely bogus to me.  Two of the books we've read for The Book Club Bloggers - The Giver and Cat's Cradle - appear on the "most challenged list".  Completely bogus.  The issues written about in "The Giver", which have been called inappropriate, are written in an manner that's accessible for the book's young adult audience.  And my gosh, "Cat's Cradle" is an adult novel, written and targeted towards an audience that can think for themselves and make independent decisions about the what they read.

I believe other books should have limited censorship for children.  I would put "A Day No Pigs Would Die" and "The Hunger Games" in this category.  These are books targeted for the young adult audience, but they should be read with guidance, either from parents or teachers.  Literature can - and should - broaden a child's horizons, and make them see the world in a different way.  However, they shouldn't just be thrown into these literary worlds; they need someone to explain it to them as they go.  Kids need coaxing and supervision in reading books like these, so they can come to an adult with questions, instead of wallowing in confusion or discomfort.  I would say many of the young adult books on the "most challenged" list would fall into this category - to be read within a safe environment.

Then, they are other books I believe should be censored, but only for children.  I would put "Push" into that category.  I've only read a few pages of it, but it was horribly graphic.  I was deeply disturbed by it, as an adult, married woman.  I couldn't imagine if I would have read it as a teenager; all I know is that it would have been scarring.  I bring this book up specifically because I've heard of it being used in a high school English classroom.  The defense of it was that it could "help someone who had gone through the same things".  I disagree - it could be traumatic for a child who had gone through similar experiences, to relive all of that pain, and for a child who hasn't, it could be terrible.  There are a few other books that appear on the most challenged list, because their content is too adult for their target audience.  This is the only time I can agree with censoring a book.

What are your thoughts?
Have you read any books in the "most challenged" list?
What do you think about literary censorship - for children, or for adults?


  1. I have read The Hunger Games series and The Giver, both are some of my favorites, though I would say THG books probably should be kept for more mature audiences... like older teens. The details are graphic and they are pretty violent.

    I actually read The Giver in sixth grade, and it opened my mind up to a whole new type of book and really allowed me to think through things that were until then unknown.

    I don't really have a formed opinion on censoring books for my children yet... Lily is only in second grade, but I would like we could read all kinds of books together and discuss them.

  2. Yeah, there were some books I read as a kid that I wish I hadn't because I didn't have the proper framework with which to think about them. They either caused extreme discomfort and confusion (if they dealt with sexual issues) or nightmares (if they were frightening). Although, honestly, the worst books I read in terms of intensity were the ones for high school. One might argue that this is the perfect setting (supervised) for such undertakings but for me it wasn't comfortable to have to face these issues with a teacher I didn't really know and my peers. I began to fall into the stereotype of disliking any assigned reading because of this and I think we could break that bias down with books that were less of the trying-to-provoke-you-with-overtly-sexual-or-violent-themes variety.

  3. Rachael - you make a good point about reading books in school. Sometimes I feel schools specifically choose books to be shocking for kids, or to "expand their horizons". While I agree this is necessary, and a lot of books do this well, teachers need to be mindful when choosing their curriculum.