“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” “A Light in the Attic” — What do these books have in common? Not only are they all books I read prior to high school — some of which were even assigned reading — but they can also all be found on the American Library Association’s list of “The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.”

Since 1982, Banned Book Week has been observed the last week of September each year. According to the ALA, Banned Book Week “celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met” (emphasis theirs).

And although the books I listed above are mainly for a younger audience, book censorship affects everyone. Not only because it shows how influential some people can be, but also because it shows how easily a person’s First Amendment rights can be tampered with.

To further emphasize this point, let me give you an example from popular culture: the banning of Graham Greene’s book “The Destructors” in the movie “Donnie Darko.” Seeing such censorship affected me the way censorship affects most adolescents and young adults: I went straight out and got a copy of the book.

Rebelliously, I read “The Destructors,” and after destroying my neighbor’s house from the inside out, I sat down to write this review.

For those of you who have either not seen “Donnie Darko” or have not read “The Destructors,” here’s a brief synopsis: On the eve of the August Bank Holiday, the Wormsley Common Gang — a group of adolescent boys — decides to break into a nearby house and destroy it from the inside out under the leadership of T., their newest member. “T. was giving his orders with decision: it was as though this plan had been with him all his life, pondered through the seasons, now in his fifteenth year crystallized with the pain of puberty,” it reads.

The boys destroy the floors, the stairs and all of the possessions inside. They even burn the money they find. It is at this point in the story that they seem the most mature. They are no longer playing childish pranks.

Their scheme does not end exactly as planned, yet even though it seems evident to an analytical reader that these boys can easily be caught and punished, the text itself does not imply this, nor does it make any reference to future consequences.

The fact the “destructors” are early adolescents and get away with their vandalism increases the conflict both in the story as well as regarding the story. The controversy is similar to those surrounding books like William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” — coming-of-age books filled with violence and rage rather than general teenage angst.

Even today, society views children as innocent and naive beings. So when it’s presented with children who radically challenge and destroy these beliefs (either in books, film, or real life), its sense of reality is shattered.

This is one of the main reasons people feel compelled to challenge certain books. They find the content unsuitable for the intended audience (most often, children). They hold onto the idea that children are fragile and need to be protected from harmful influences, such as knowledge of drugs, war, sex, magic, anger and bad things happening to good people.

Now before you prepare your full-frontal assault and ask me if I really do believe that two year olds should be exposed to the bloody side of war, let me switch sides for a moment. Yes, I can see where those who challenge books are coming from. I understand that there are things out “there” — in art, literature, film, etc — that are not suitable for all ages. And I do agree that these things should be censored and banned — but rightfully, by the correct people.

According to the ALA, “‘Free Access to Libraries for Minors,’ an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, states that ‘Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents, and only parents, have the right and responsibility to restrict the access of their children — and only their children — to library resources.'”

No one person (or group) should have the power to determine what is right for everyone else.

Also, according to the ALA, the Office for Intellectual Freedom received 458 formal written complaints filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. It is largely due to librarians, and the popularity of Banned Book Week, that so many challenged books have not gone on to be banned.

It is also due to authors who do not let the fear of censorship keep them from writing.

Neil Gaiman put it best when he recently said, “Whenever I notice that my name isn’t on the list of banned and challenged authors, I feel faintly like I’m letting the side down. Although I suspect all I’d have to do to get on the list is to write a book about naked, bisexual, hard-swearing wizards who drink a lot while disparaging the Second Amendment, and I’d be home and dry.”

For more information on book censorship and Banned Book Week, please go to: .

Also, please check out the Wisconsin Book Festival Oct 6-10. Go to for more information and a schedule of events.

And finally, the 13th Annual Canterbury Run/Walk for Literacy (to Benefit the Madison Area Literacy Council) will be held Oct 10. For more details go to: