The Lord of the Rings, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, The Lorax, The Diary of Anne Frank, Flowers for Algernon. What do these books have in common? At one time or another, I used parts of each of them in my middle school classroom. They are also included among books that have been banned.
I have never understood this type of censorship. I have always been permitted to read absolutely anything and everything.
One of my clearest childhood memories is of one of the few times I ever saw my mother truly angry. We had just moved to a small town in Florida from an even smaller town in southern Ohio. I was nine and already reading on an eighth grade level, but I was small, so people usually assumed I was younger.
As a family of voracious readers, one of our first explorations in our new community included a visit to the public library. The librarian greeted us and issued our brand new library cards. As I eagerly began my search for treasure, the librarian touched my shoulder and directed me to a low shelf at the front of the library – one filled with picture books.
My mother quickly explained that I was older than I appeared and that I was capable of reading pretty much anything in the library. We were informed that I would only be permitted to check out books from that one shelf.
I knew there was trouble. When Mama is angry, her mouth becomes a thin line. When I looked at her, I couldn’t see her mouth at all! Her face became red and her hands were shaking. Let’s just say my mother and the librarian “had words”. The result? I happily went home with two of my current favorites – gothic romances by Victoria Holt.
Our family was very conservative in most respects, but not when it came to reading. I was allowed to read absolutely anything and everything. The only requirement was that Mama would read it too. I’m not certain how she felt about The Catcher in the Rye or Peyton Place, but I’m pretty certain that she really enjoyed Summer of ’42.
My parents understood that a good, solid education was not one that avoided controversial ideas. Words are only words, but when put together in particular ways, they can take you many places and only lead to questions which in turn will lead to more wonderful things to think about. Education never ends as long as there are questions. But if we only read what we already know, the questions end, and so does the learning. I am fortunate that my parents understood that.