Are teens really able to decide for themselves what books to read? Can they make the decision on their own that they are ready to handle heavy topics such as suicide, sex and drugs? The main purpose of Banned Book Week is to give a shout out about censorship and the rights of teens to read whatever they desire. Bold statement from YALSA, but is it really a prudent one? One factor that has always been left out of the debate is the parents of the reader. This is where a little ingenuity and flexibility has to come into play as Young Adult Librarians promote Banned Book Week.
The whole notion of banned book sounds exciting to teens. Reading something that is "forbidden" is akin to sneaking out to the garage to smoke. It's the thrill of finding out what "secrets" they shouldn't know or not getting caught. To be a teen, again. When the books were hidden under the beds, or tucked in lockers so no one would know. Wait! That never happened. As a matter of fact, in the 1970's although there were books that everyone talked about like Judy Blume's novels but not one book seemed off limits for young hands to reach out and grab. Come to think of it, from the way Banned Book Weeks is promoted, one would get the idea that American libraries are under siege and strict government regime is forbidding certain books to be read, thus they must be burned. Okay, so that's a little extreme, but since this is not the case, one has to wonder why it's so important for teens to have "rights" to read about topics that are in some sense controversial? It's all in the name of giving teens independence from their parents and finding out "who" they are. Well, this can lead to dangerous territory, and it's up to librarians to be flexible enough to find the middle ground.
Back in the 1980's when Madonna came out with her controversial coffee table book titled "Sex", libraries grappled with the dillema of how to circulate the book. Should they keep it in "closed" stacks and have patrons ask for the title. If a minor asked for the title, would there be a "permission slip" from a parent required? Does this not pose a threat to the First Amendments? Nope. Sorry, in the case of a child, and teens are still legally children up until the age of eighteen, the parents will and should have the right to determine what is good or bad for their family. This includes books.
What should a librarian do to help the teen who so desperately wants to read 13 Reasons Why? It is a s simple as inviting parents and teen to read the book together. When parents begin to worry that a topic might, such as suicide, might effect their child in a negative way, shouldn't they have the right to have the book held off until a time when the child can handle the subject matter? The only time to challenge an authority figure in a child's life is a school board, but never undermine the parents. Some of the best book discussions that have been held have been with parent and child participating. It is a excellent tool to help foster communications. That is the "Key" to unlocking the banned book debate. Let the conversations flow and include everyone in the conversation.
Banned Book Weeks allow for many good things to happen. One, it entices teens to read. Two, discussions on why the book was "banned" can bring up other ideas that can lead teen to continue their interest in the topic. Three, it provides a valuable opportunity for families to read together. That in itself is the best outcome of Banned Book Week. However your library chooses to celebrate, here's hoping that everyone enjoys the "Banned" week!