Once Upon a Time (Not So Long Ago)

By Shajiah Jaffri, for the Youth Free Expression Network
October 3, 2008

Once upon a time (not so long ago) a book was written. It was an excellent book, listed in the Top Ten of the New York Times Best Seller’s List.  It was a realistic book that narrated the teenage years of the author, from his first date to his first time to the suicide of his elder sister. It was a gritty and honest and resounded among American teenagers. Many readers wrote to the author, informing him how they were able to relate to his book. Soon talk of this novel filled the country and more teenagers wanted to read the novel. Unfortunately, at around the same times its popularity began to skyrocket, copies of the novel were removed from bookshelves and schools, as angry adults demanded the book be banned. Why? Because of its controversial nature. “It contains violence, offensive language, and is sexually explicit. If it were a movie, it’d be rated R.” Too bad for any teen that wanted to read it—it was deemed unfit by adults who know “what’s best”.

While this book I speak of is “fictional”, it is comparable to many of the books that are on the American Librarians Association’s most challenged booklist. Many of us are familiar with the titles that grace the list such as Catcher in the Rye, Huck Finn, Harry Potter, and, yes, even Where’s Waldo. These are a few of many books that are labeled controversial and unfit to be on bookshelves according to select groups of people ­­­– groups that often claim they are protecting children. These groups decide that we the kids cannot make intelligent decisions about what to read by ourselves. And so they take it upon themselves to choose for us in order to protect us and by doing so, rob us of our freedom of choice, one of the most valuable freedoms we hold.          

Challenging books is only a few steps away from banning books, which believe it or not, still happens in this country!  Banning books has many harmful consequences. By banning books, one removes viewpoints, opinions, and lessons that people could learn from. Think of it this way: one banned book is one less book that could stimulate a child’s love of reading.  Besides, where do you draw the line? If you ban one book, you may ban others in the future. And then one day, imagine that our world has become like the one Ray Bradbury introduced in Fahrenheit 451, where books are illegal and even burned if found. That’s a harsh reality I hope that no one has the misfortune of living. It sounds extreme, but it’s possible.      

I strongly oppose banning books. I believe parents should be familiar with what their kids read and kids should know what’s age appropriate. But it’s wrong to pull a book off of shelves out of fear that precious Suzy will read it and become corrupted.  

I believe kids should be able to read and experience different viewpoints to help form their own. They shouldn’t be hindered while learning about opposing opinions ad experiences.       

To those who would ban books, here’s my final message: Trust in your kids to think for themselves, and leave the books alone!


Shajiah Jaffri is a senior at Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, Missouri. She is Senior Editor of the Voice, the school newspaper, and  also volunteers for the ACLU. Her interests include reading, writing, and history.

The Youth Free Expression Network is a national coalition of youth and adults committed to advancing young people’s artistic and intellectual freedom by empowering youth to advocate on their own behalf.