In the beginning of September, I saw the following headline about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, a book I read and reviewed for The Muffin back in 2010:
Tennessee Parent: Acclaimed Medical History Book is Pornographic
If you haven't read the book, here's a bit about it from my review: "I'd never heard of Henrietta Lacks, pictured on the book cover, before I picked up Rebecca Skloot's wonderful book. Chances are, you haven't either. But you may have heard of HeLa cells or at the very least, information about medical research to find a polio vaccine or cure for cancer. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, you finally meet the women behind HeLa cells, 'the first immortal cells ever grown in a laboratory,' as well as her family and key medical researchers."
That doesn't sound like porn at all, right? So what is this parent's beef with the book? The book is on the summer reading list for high school students who go to L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville. Local station WBIR reported, "Her son has been provided with an alternate text, per district policy, but Sims said she wants the text out of the hands of all Knox County Schools students." Providing an alternate text is how the district deals with book complaints and can still stand behind their educators' curriculum decisions.
Sims thinks the book is too graphic (it is written for adults, not teens), and some examples she mentions are when the author discusses Henrietta's husband's infidelity and a tumor on her cervix. The point that most articles concerning this mother's complaints raise and some parents have stated, whose children also go to this school, is that Sims has every right to stop her 15-year-old from reading a book she doesn't find appropriate, but she does not have the right to stop other kids from reading it.
As writers and artists, we know this is true. Everyone has their own morals and beliefs. There are countless books in libraries, at bookstores, and online to purchase and read for you and your family. It is no one's right or mission in life to stop anyone from reading a particular book.
The American Library Association's website has a lot of information on banned books--they have top 10 lists concerning the most challenged and banned books--contemporary and classics. Check it out if you want to see a list of great books you want to read because that's what banning books usually does--it gives the book publicity and makes people want to read it even more. I love this about our society.
I could go on and on about this topic but here's an example of a parent whom I think is doing things right. The other day, her 11-year-old daughter brought home a Maximum Ride book, and since she's not familiar with the series, she asked her Facebook friends what they thought. I responded asking if her daughter had read other series, such as Hunger Games, and what she thought of it. We had a discussion, along with her other friends. And then she made a decision for her own family.
So even though Banned Books Week is over, let's remember that there are people who are constantly trying to censor everyone; and as writers, we have to speak up because this is not okay.
Margo L. Dill is a children's and YA author and an instructor for the WOW! Women On Writing classroom. Find out more at: http://www.margodill.com