Why Kids Need to Know About Banned Books

As it does every year, the American Library Association has declared this week Banned Book Week, creating a list of books most frequently challenged in public libraries and schools. For the third year in a row, the children’s book And Tango Makes Three has taken the No. 1 position.

And Tango Makes Three is not the coffee-table edition of Dancing with the Stars. The award-winning book by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell is about two male penguins caring for an egg of a mixed-sex penguin couple. Think Nickelodeon’s The Penguins of Madagascar meets My Two Dads.

Some parents fearfully think And Tango Makes Three might as well be called Escape to Brokeback Mountain, but so far as we know, no child has ever turned gay by reading a book, seeing a movie or watching television. If Dancing with the Stars doesn’t do it, nothing can.

Other challenged books on the most recent list include the TTYL series, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Gossip Girl and The Kite Runner. Challenged books from years past include To Kill a Mockingbird, Charlotte’s Web, The Lord of the Rings, Goosebumps, In The Night Kitchen, A Light in the Attic, A Wrinkle in Time, Winnie the Pooh and The Catcher in the Rye. Given that list, I wonder why more people aren’t burning CliffsNotes just to save time.

The ALA has been publishing its “challenged book” rankings since 2001, when Harry Potter topped the list, but it doesn’t get that much media play or attention from children and teens. Kids just don’t see a connection between banned library books and the media they enjoy, maybe because many of them use books primarily to prop up their Xboxes.

But young people ought to know there are people out there who want to strongly censor what they see, hear, read and watch. Those habits aren’t only restricted to books. It’s just that books—generating no revenue from advertising or popcorn sales—are the most vulnerable of targets.

If and when you decide to clue your kids in, just drop the phrase “a world without Harry Potter” somewhere in the discourse. With luck, eyes will go wide, jaws will drop, and they’ll be hitting Bing.com and texting their congressional reps before you know it.

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