I’ve heard it said on numerous occasions that the ideas in books can be dangerous.
But it never really occurred to me that the library could be a hazardous place, even though there was that one time a couple-a three years ago when my youngest bloodied his lip playing a game of Quidditch on the library lawn as the children’s librarian refereed.
I was there on the sidelines, mind you, but I didn’t see the moment of impact. And I could barely make out the words as my boy reported through tears that he was a chaser for Hufflepuff when a keeper on the Ravenclaw team accidentally hit him with a Nimbus 2000. Broom checking was subsequently banned from future matches. Though he was upset because he thought I would pull him
from the game.
I did not. I wiped my son's lips, checked for loose teeth, and let him finish the match.
(Hufflepuff creamed ‘em.)
No, immediate bodily harm isn’t what most people mean when they say the ideas in a book can be dangerous, and therefore need to be controlled to the point of restriction. They are talking about censorship; often of critically acclaimed and classic works of literature, which tend to weave intricate tales about stark and complicated truths.
Works such as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning southern gothic novel about racial injustice; and Khalid Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, a critically acclaimed historical novel about a father and son's relationship in a changing Afghanistan.
Normally, I'd think about these things in September, when organizers of Banned Books Week remind me in forehead-slapping detail how many works of fact and fiction across the country face expulsion from school libraries because they make parents uncomfortable.
The way I saw it, these mouth-breathing parents probably hadn't read a book since “See Spot Run,” and would never understand why any self-respecting school district would allow any of J.K. Rowlings’ Potter volumes to take up space on library shelves because Hogwarts Academy exalts magic and witchcraft.
That was until my Harry Potter (the movies) -loving son came home with Susan Campbell Bartoletti's book, “Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler's Shadow.”
I felt like a deer in headlights. Or a first-year wizard getting beaned by a bludger.
“I've been wanting to take out this book forever,” he said as he flopped down on the couch with the prestigious medal-winning tome. I perched over his shoulder and looked down as he slowly turned the pages. Pictures of boys, from the looks of their faces, not much older than him, juxtaposed to a column of biographic material.
They didn't much look like monsters.
And that worried me.
I had so many questions. Why is my son interested in Germany during the war? What has drawn him to wonder about Hitler Youth? Why couldn't he have started this quest for knowledge with “The Diary of Anne Frank?”
I wanted to ask a professional. Was this the beginning of some slippery slope? The launching place where history doesn't repeat itself as much as it recasts the roles of the villains?
Will these new villains look and act like my son?
Honestly, I was as close to calling the principal and demanding to know what steps he was taking to ensure my son didn't take this information and twist it into some grammar school version of INFO WARS, when I realized this is how ignorance gets a foothold. With people like me not wanting to talk about it.
If there's no room for discussion, there's nothing left but fear and silence.
And he who shall not be named will return, time and time again.