Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Banned Books Week: Teen Fiction Is . . .

Depending on whom you ask, the answer may be “too dark”.  This year teen fiction like The Hunger Games came under fire as The Wall Street Journal, bloggers and NPR and asked, is teen fiction too dark?

The answer is, some of it is too dark for some readers.  Some of it is too light and fluffy for some readers.  Teen fiction, like children’s fiction and adult fiction, is a little bit of everything.  There is something for everyone – and that’s the way it should be.

The truth is that teens everywhere are living a wide variety of lives.  Sadly, there are teenagers who are living lives full of abuse, at home or at school; they live lives full of drugs and identity crisis and sex and . . . well, most of us try hard not to remember, but the teenage years are exciting and stressful and confusing and scary.
When I hear adults fretting about the darkness in teen fiction, I think of the teen who came into my library just a couple of years ago: at 22 weeks pregnant she had an abortion while her brother (5) and sister (7) sat in the parking lot and waited.  Her life was dark and she needed some realistic fiction to help her know that she was not alone and that there was a way out of the darkness.  There is no fiction darker than the life she was living.  And that is the sad truth for a lot of teens.
The truth is, teens are living lives every day that many of us could never imagine.  And if some teens aren’t, well – a parent guided reading of some darker fiction can help those teens understand the life of some of their peers and develop compassion.  It can help them develop the tools they need to engage and guide those teens to seek help from parents, counselors or some other means.  In order to have compassion for others, we must understand other points of view and step into other worlds.  Reading helps us develop a global perspective, a mature thinking process, and the tools we need to grow, overcome and step meaningfully into the world.
The truth is that we all have to walk away from home one day and engage what can be a very dark world.  The news tells us daily of the 3 wars we are engaged in, of how we are on the brink of imminent financial collapse, of mothers who murder babies and sometimes babies (teens) who murder their mothers.  Teen fiction helps teens take baby steps into the “real” world.  In the safety of their home and with the help of the adults around them processing what they are reading, teens can slowly begin to see that every day there are people living lives different than their own.  How much safer for teens to take baby steps into that world rather then jump off the cliff without a parachute.
What a gift it is for a teen to find that book that speaks to them; to their situation.  Who are we to assume we know what is right for that teen?  Each heart and mind is moved differently.  An outsider does not have the right to determine for someone else what is right for them.  I remember reading It by Stephen King in the 6th grade:  Whatever it may have been, to me it was a model of friendship.  Whenever I think of that book I am reminded of what it means to be a faithful friend.  And that is why I oppose censorship and support things like Banned Books Week.  I don’t like every book I read, and there are books that I would not want my child to read (totally and completely my choice), but I don’t want others having the power to determine what I or my child can or can not read.
Remember, throughout the course of history, one of the most banned and challenged books has been the Bible.  Never assume that you will get to be the one determining which books are banned.
So what will you be doing to raise awareness during Banned Books Week?
  • Get your teens thinking and discussing teen fiction and the freedom to read, share links to the various recent press it has received and see what they have to say (below).
  • Have a simple contest where you give the reason a book was banned/challenged and see if they can guess the book.
  • Do a display that highlights various banned/challenged titles.
  • Have a book discussion group that discusses some of the banned/challenged book, or books about censorship such as The Day They Came to Arrest the Book.
  • Arrest some of the banned/challenged books and have a read-a-thon to get teens to read to release them (think the MDA jail-a-thon fundraiser).
  • Make bookmarks and posters (they are also available via the ALA)
  • Have teens create visuals for banned books – posters, commercials, etc.  This could be a contest, craft activity or independent activity.  Or they can just make visuals about the concept of censorship.
The 2010 BBW Graphic from ALA.org
This is also a great time to remind staff of the library’s Intellectual Freedom position.  Don’t hesitate to get them involved in discussions.  Have a brown bag chat staff lunch and discuss.  Every day send out information on a book title that has been banned or challenged and tell them why.
THE single most dangerous idea out there is the idea that anyone can ban a book and impede your access to information.  Exercise your freedom to read.  Stand up for the freedom to read.

Recent articles about Teen Fiction:
The Wall Street Journal
Chris Crutcher’s Response

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