Nick and I have just finished reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. He usually has about three novels going at once – one for fun, one for his history class in our homeschool co-op, and one of my recommendations, such as this Steinbeck classic.
In addition to discussing the book’s theme, plot, setting, and characters–and Steinbeck’s craft–our reading of Of Mice and Men also led us into a discussion of banned books. I think all my sons have thought it was interesting to have a mom who is firmly in favor of banned books.
That is, in favor of reading as many of them as possible.
While I advise kids-up-to-a-certain-stage to turn to their parents for insight about selecting appropriate books, I generally also tell them that reading banned books is an important part of exercising intellectual freedom. In general, over time, read as many as you can.
A better word for many such books today is “challenged,” because many books that aren’t outright banned are the subject of challenges–requests or demands to have the book removed from libraries, stores, and schools assignments.
The American Library Association has a great list of banned 20th century classics, and I’m proud to say that my oldest kids read lots of these, and Nick, at 14, has a good start: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Call of the Wild, Lord of the Rings, The Lord of the Flies, and Of Mice and Men, among others. He has a few non-20th century novels under his belt as well.
Looking at Of Mice and Men as one of many books that some people don’t want other people to read adds depth to the discussion of the book’s plot and the characters’ coarse language and harsh lives. This lens actually helps present mature themes to maturing teens.
Nick is sitting here previewing this blog post (as he always does when he is mentioned). He shakes his head — “Why would people want to ban such good literature?” Then he answers his rhetorical question with what he imagines is their answer — a quote from the movie A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth.”
Fortunately, in the United States, we get to decide that for ourselves.