JOPLIN, Mo. —
In honor of Banned Books Week, libraries across the nation have put up displays featuring shelves full of beloved titles, from "Go Ask Alice" to "Harry Potter."
The Joplin Public Library has three such displays: one in the children's department, one for teens and one for adult readers. The message of the week, sponsored by the American Library Association and other groups, is that people should decide for themselves what is fit to read, not a government or any other individual. Or, in the case of children, parents should decide.
"We always suggest that parents read the book first," said children's librarian Jeana Gockley.
But how do parents decide? In a perfect world, parents would be able to read each and every book before deciding whether their children get a crack at it. But reading takes time.
There are other ways to figure out whether a book has questionable content, Gockley said. Moms or dads with a little Internet savvy will be able to find everything they need in order to decide whether their child is ready for "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Harry Potter" or "Captain Underpants."
Gockley said reviews are great places to start, and some of the best reviews can be found on a well-known book-selling site.
"Amazon features plenty of reviews, and you can find professional reviews there," Gockley said. "That can give a good idea what the book is about initially."
There are also websites dedicated to providing parent reviews. Featuring reviews of movies, books, TV shows and more, these parenting sites can provide a bunch of information in a regular, consistent format.
But those parent review sites may have different guidelines than a parent -- religious differences, for example. Gockley said it's just as important to review the reviewer in order to determine that values match up.
Find the flap
Absent a good data plan or other Internet access, the book flap usually has plenty of information. While the book flap of Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" likely doesn't cover the more controversial parts of that book, it gives a great description of what the book is about.
The reason that some books are challenged has to do with age-appropriateness, Gockley said. A book intended for eighth-graders may not be suitable for fourth-graders.
The rise of young-adult fiction causes even more of those problems, Gockley said. Because the genre is trending upward, many young-adult titles are drawing critical eyes.
"Anytime there is any sort of sexual content, it raises red flags for people," Gockley said. "Book-sellers are definitely targeting teens. They have income to spend on books."
Ask a librarian
If nothing else, librarians have a good command of what books are about and where to find more information about them, Gockley said. While librarians don't want to give subjective opinions, they will be happy to provide information so parents can make their own decisions.
"We don't want to discourage anyone from checking out materials," Gockley said. "But we can inform what section something is in, and we can help show parents where to look for reviews."
Top 10 titles
Every year around April, the Office of Intellectual Freedom releases a list of the most banned or challenged titles from the previous year. In 2012 the top 10 most banned and challenged books were:
- "Captain Underpants" (series), by Dav Pilkey. Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group.
- "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie. Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. (This book was banned by the Stockton School Board in 2010.)
- "Thirteen Reasons Why," by Jay Asher. Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group.
- "Fifty Shades of Grey," by E. L. James. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit.
- "And Tango Makes Three," by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group.
- "The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini. Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.
- "Looking for Alaska," by John Green. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.
- "Scary Stories" (series), by Alvin Schwartz. Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence.
- "The Glass Castle," by Jeanette Walls. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit.
- "Beloved," by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence.