Sunday, May 23, 2010

Books I Wish I Didn't Read

Or at least hadn't been allowed to read for a little while.

I hate the idea of censorship. My parents were very liberal with me growing up, talking to me about sex and violence at a pretty young age, essentially answering any questions I asked. It was a good strategy, especially for me, because not only did it build a sense of trust between me and them, but it ensured that I would not learn this information from other, less trustworthy people, hearing it in an unhealthy context or learning just downright lies.

I came across a website listing band books that people should read and it really made me think about the books that I read as a child. Harry Potter and the Narnia Chronicles spring to mind quickly, along with a plethora of required reading from school. However, one book and one story particularly stand out in my mind, as I don't think I should have been allowed to read them at such a young age.

A Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, on the aforementioned list, really bothered me. I read it when I was about ten or twelve, around the same age as the characters in the book. This made it all the harder when (spoiler alert) the young girl dies. I wasn't prepared for that, and it really affected me. It made me think pretty dark thoughts for that age, and though it was a good book, I really wish I'd been older when I read it. With a little more life experience and understanding, I think the death would have been easier to deal with.

"The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson is about a village basically drawing straws to see who gets stoned to death. The entire story you don't know what's going on, you just know that people are really excited to not be winning, and little children are gathering piles of rocks in anticipation. I read this in class as required reading. We read this story out loud. I'm not sure if it was the fact that the entire community killed the woman, or that no one else in class seemed bothered, but it greatly affected me. It took me a couple days to wrap my head around it and move on.

I was probably a particularly sensitive kid growing up, and maybe because of events like my mom having breast cancer and being diagnosed with diabetes I felt more closely connected to the issue of death. I would never recommend "banning" books, especially not for the reasons people ever want to, but I think it's important to take a child's age in to account when determining whether they're ready for certain concepts.

It reminds me of a relatively recent issue in my old school district. A woman was petitioning to get The Giver by Lois Lowry banned from the elementary schools. Her fourth-grader had to read the book as a class assignment, and according to the mother, she was very bothered by the issue of euthanasia.

Gee, I can't imagine why. It's not like adults aren't bothered by it, or anything. It's not like we don't argue every day as to whether it's okay or not. It's not like someone who has been taught consistently that murder is wrong would ever have an issue with "acceptable" murder.

"The Giver" is FANTASTIC, and I loved reading it as a freshman in high school. The fact is that there are some questions that children simply aren't READY to ask. They need to be asked, and they will be, but when they're ready.

Censorship is bad, but I think discretion is different and necessary. If a child has a question, it means she's ready to talk about the issue and hear the answer. If a child is forced to hear the question and then the answer, the results may not be as pleasant or healthy.

Makes me realize how hard parenting is. :|

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