Emily Hunter is a senior journalism major and writes “Speak Out” for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
When I was a kid, I carried a book with me everywhere I went.
In the same way people never leave their house without their keys or phone, I always had at least one story on me at all times. I took them to school, church, grocery shopping, vacations, and even funerals and weddings – just in case I got bored.
My parents eagerly supported my habit. My mom made sure any bags she bought me were big enough to fit a chapter book and Christmas gifts almost always included selections from my “To Be Read” list.
I’m blessed to have been raised in a Christain household where reading of all kinds, and just as importantly, freedom of thought, was encouraged. In the 1980s, my dad was both a Christian and a Dungeons & Dragons fan, and had several of his interests unfairly deemed as “satanic” and “evil”. He knew what it felt like to have his passions scrutinized in that way and did not want the same for his daughter. Books understandably needed to be age appropriate, but nothing was ever “banned.”
As a result of my parent’s encouragement, my love for reading grew as I did. My bedtime stories were from Narnia, my favorite Halloween costume was Hermione Granger, and I spent all of my birthday money on the newest Rick Riordan book. My dad even begrudgingly read through the “Twilight” novels when I expressed interest in early middle school, just to be sure there was nothing too explicit. As I got older, I was trusted to make those decisions for myself.
In my English classes throughout the years, I absorbed every book that was placed on my desk with varying degrees of enthusiasm – after all, even the most avid readers can find some books boring. To this day, I will happily discuss “Lord of the Flies” with anyone who asks, but have easily forgotten the plot to “Cold Sassy Tree.”
My teachers were always sure to give a content warning before we started reading – language and violence in “To Kill A Mockingbird,” for example – but that was it. There was never a debate about whether or not these books should be read.
I had heard of banned books before, of course. There was a display outside of the high school library highlighting frequently banned books that were available to check out, which I saw as a fabulous act of defiance. One of my English teachers was always heavily involved in Banned Book Week events when they rolled around in October.
But I always saw it as a far away issue. In my experience, reading of all kinds had always been celebrated. Surely, the American education system would never fail its students in that way.
How wrong I was.
On Jan. 10, the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee voted to ban the book “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, the son of Holocaust survivors, due to graphic depictions of violence, language, and nudity. According to the minutes from the school board meeting, the vote to remove the book from the eighth grade curriculum was unanimous, despite not having a replacement in mind.
Since then, a book banning frenzy has swept the nation. Schools and libraries in several states have been closely examined for inappropriate material by conservative government officials and angry parents.
In the midst of the chaos, I decided to follow the example of my upbringing and read “Maus” for myself, to form my own opinion. My initial assumption was correct: The McMinn County School Board made a mistake. With the proper warnings beforehand, “Maus” is completely fine for the eighth grade curriculum.
The issues that the board members were concerned with – cursing, nudity, violence – were not added to the book unnecessarily. “Maus” is a novel centered around the Holocaust – violence and dark themes are to be expected. The nudity is not sexual and has minimal detail; it depicts a woman’s body after she committed suicide in a bathtub, where only her chest is visible above the water. The cursing is minimal as well, and to be perfectly honest, I’ve heard eighth graders say much worse.
“Maus” is based on a true story, told in the form of a series of interviews between father and son. To not include the violence, the nudity, the language, would be disrespectful and a lie. Students need to learn the truth of history, no matter how dark or disturbing it might be.
Children are smarter and stronger than we give them credit for, especially with the technology at their fingertips. I believe with the proper introduction and guidance, they can handle sensitive topics with a maturity that rivals most adults’.
To the administrators, parents and government officials in charge of making these decisions: banning books does more harm than good. There is a difference between utilizing proper age restrictions and outright banning the content. You think you’re protecting the children by shielding them from inappropriate topics, but the only thing they’re being shielded from is reality. You’re depriving them of the chance to make their own decisions and form their own opinions, which is what allows us to grow as people.
Those who ban books have never been remembered as being on the right side of history.
To the kids and the students who are being affected: Never stop reading controversial books. If a book is considered banned, take it as a sign that it should be read. History is far deeper and far richer than older generations would have you believe.
In “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde said, “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
It’s time to uncover that shame.
Today’s kids reading about the world’s horrors become tomorrow’s adults, determined to not make the same mistakes.
Contact Emily Hunter with comments at [email protected] or on Twitter @ emily_hunter_01.