Banned Books Week: THE GIVER’s history with being considered a “banned book”
The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom established “Banned Books Week” in 1982 to promote “awareness of challenges to library materials and [celebrate] freedom of speech.” Throughout the week, the ALA examines books that have been banned or challenged in schools and libraries across the country. Every year, the ALA reports the top 10 most frequently banned books of the year. Every ten years, they announce the top 100 banned books of the decade.
The Giver graced the ALA’s top 100 list both decades of its existence, ranking eleventh from 1990-1999, while dropping to twenty-third from 2000-2009. Slate magazine reported that in these instances, The Giver (intended for grades 5-8) was considered “Unsuited to Age Group” (Slate). According to the ALA during one instance of banning, “parents called the book ‘lewd’ and ‘twisted’” (ALA).
“Question: A parent from my school wants to ban The Giver. What do you think about that?
Answer: I think banning books is a very, very dangerous thing. It takes away an important freedom. Any time there is an attempt to ban a book, you should fight it as hard as you can. It’s okay for a parent to say, “I don’t want my child to read this book.” But it is not okay for anyone to try to make that decision for other people. The world portrayed in The Giver is a world where choice has been taken away. It is a frightening world. Let’s work hard to keep it from truly happening.”
(To read more from Lois Lowry’s FAQ section, CLICK HERE)
Ironically, in the world of The Giver, the strict rules disallow citizens from reading books other than the dictionary and the Book of Rules. The government also controls many other freedoms, such as riding bikes and girls wearing ribbons in their hair. Courtney Young, President of the American Library Association, points out (in a Huffington Post article) that the end result of banning a book is what’s most important to consider in this debate:
“While not every book is intended for every reader, each of us has the right to choose for ourselves what to read, listen to or view. It is thanks to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents and students that most challenges are unsuccessful and national awareness campaigns such as Banned Books Week … which stresses the importance of preventing censorship and ensuring everyone’s freedom to read any book, no matter how unorthodox or unpopular.” (HP)
Mark Hemingway, a contributing writer to The Federalist and a parent of two, argues in favor of banning. He references the Stephen King novel Rage, which King stopped selling after it was reported to have influenced four school gun shootings. In a Federalist article, Hemingway explains, “In a better world, King shouldn’t feel he has to keep Rage from being sold. There would be enough responsible adults around to keep disturbed kids from reading it. This is the difference between actual book banning and what the American Library Association thinks it is.”
Hemingway continues on to argue that, “To say that knowledge never hurts is to deny that books have any power to influence people at all. And if you’re not trying to influence people, why write?” (TF)
Lois Lowry agrees that there is certainly a power, and therefore a danger, in writing for the masses. However, in her Newbery Award acceptance speech, she also explains that such danger is sometimes quite worth it—a message that is, in fact, at the very core of The Giver:
“The Giver passed along to the boy knowledge, history, memories, color, pain, laughter, love, and truth. Every time you place a book in the hands of a child, you do the same thing. It is very risky. But each time a child opens a book, he pushes open the gate that separates him from Elsewhere. It gives him choices. It gives him freedom. Those are magnificent, wonderfully unsafe things.”
And while people try to balance freedom with safety (a seemingly age-old question), novelist Dennis Miller observes that perhaps banning is overall counterproductive. In a Huffington Post article, he notices that, “When you ban a book you draw attention to it. You create a desire among readers…Tell me I can’t have something because it is bad for me and I want it more. We all crave the forbidden.”
Likewise, as Jonas receives the memories of the past, he, too, begins to desire the parts of life that his government forbids.
Thanks to ALA’s Banned Books Week, this question will continue to be challenged, discussed, and debated.