Yes, I realize banning books is not a celebratory topic, but it’s better than burning books a la Farenheit 451, right? This is the 32nd Banned Books Week sponsored by the American Library Association, which uses this time to call attention to the issue of censorship and embrace the freedom of reading.
However, Kristen Scatton, author of this piece in Bustle, caused me to reflect on how to moderate books without banning them. Because she’s right – while the dissemination of information is crucial to the way our society operates, there’s also some types of information that we don’t expose kids to because it’s inappropriate for their age. Despite how much I currently love George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I wouldn’t give it to my 12 year-old self to read. At that age, I was obsessed with Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet, which was about growing up without being grown-up and apt for my age, after graduating from my 8 year-old self’s obsession with Harry Potter (not that I still wasn’t obsessed as a 12 year-old or even as a 21 year-old).
My point is that there’s some thematic commonalities between the three works, and all exist in the fantasy genre, but these ideas in each are tackled in ways that are appropriate for different age groups. I heartily agreed with Scatton’s point that it would be useful to create an age-based rating system for books to provide guidance for parents and teachers. Sure, some children have the maturity to read at a higher level and should be encouraged to do so, as my elementary school librarian did for me, but at least more information would be provided upfront rather than after the reader reaches the end of the book when what they know can’t be unknown!
I recently read The Queen of the Tearling and, as I noted on my review, was surprised at the unexpected adultness of some of its scenes. It’s billed as “young adult” so I could’ve easily picked it up as a 6th grader, when the mentions of rape and sex trafficking would’ve shocked my adolescent sensibilities. A rating system could prevent the same mistake being made by an actual 6th grader if they’re not ready for that content.
While I don’t necessarily agree that you need an adults-only section in libraries or that technology will be helpful in blocked access to restricted materials (I actually think the opposite is true), Scatton injects new ideas into the banned books debate, which has mainly centered on the question: Should books be banned and which ones? The answer: NO, none, never.