I’m a big fan of the teacher Socrates–you know, the Ancient Greek philosopher who had to drink poison hemlock because he drove everyone crazy through his constant questioning. Socrates never wrote anything, but his student, Plato, attributes these words to Socrates:
Writing shares a strange feature with painting. The offsprings of painting stand there as if they were alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent. The same is true of written words. You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever.
Phaedrus 275 d-e
The enduring value of a good book lies in the questions it raises rather than those it seeks to answer. Books contain ideas that act as seeds that can take root in a fertile mind.
To Sell Without Selling Out
On the road to publication, I’ve frequently asked myself if I should write what sells–give the people what they want–or should there be a higher purpose to my writing, a value that endures and engages the hearts and minds of my readers? Can I write something that will sell without selling out? Out of this quandary emerged my most secret aspiration as a writer…I hope to someday write a book worth banning.
My Favorite Banned Books
Not long ago I was looking through the Office for Intellectual Freedom/American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2001:
12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
These are some of my all-time favorite books! The fact that these books have been challenged is evidence of their greatness. There is no need to ban trash. It has no enduring value anyway. These books have the enduring value that is the mark of great literature: They challenge young readers to see the world in a new light and to think for themselves.
The Danger of a Good Book
Why ban books? When it comes to thought control, authorities (parents and governments alike) know there’s nothing more dangerous than a good book. Books that provide escape and fulfill only pleasure-seeking desires are much less dangerous to the establishment than books that challenge young readers to question the world around them and begin to think for themselves.
The essence of who we are and what we believe permeates our stories. The characters live on in readers’ minds and, like good friends, become a part of who we are. Why not write books that increase our children’s awareness of themselves and their understanding of the world around them? Let’s stop telling them what to think, and show them how to think for themselves. Toward that end, as an aspiring young adult author, my hope is to create stories worth banning.
Do you have a favorite banned book? What books have influenced you most or stayed with you longest?
Laurie Gray is a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and has served as an author and lecturer for the National Symposium on Child Abuse. Laurie is the founder of Socratic Parenting, LLC, the co-creator of Token of Change, and a consultant for Sophie’s Café Summer Sanctuary is her first young adult novel. Summer Sanctuary is published by Luminis Books