There's been a bit of discussion in this year's banned book week about children and their access to books. Ben over at Dead End Follies did a post that's sparked a bit of discussion, and there was that kerfuffle in Missouri about the banning/not banning/pseudo-banning of Slaughterhouse Five, along with a bunch of other school-related bannings earlier in the year.
So here's the thing. Monitoring what your kids, YOUR kids (not other people's kids), read, is not the same thing as banning books. Lemmesplain. In my brain, banning a book is removing it from stores or libraries so the public cannot read it. This includes school libraries. You're making a moral judgement for other adults or other adults' kids. This? This is wrong. But when I tell my ten year old that s/he isn't old enough to read American Psycho or Naked Lunch or whatever, and I take it away from them (to be given back at whatever age I deem appropriate, if they're still interested), that's not the same thing as book banning. It's parenting.
In discussing this with other bloggers on Twitter and elsewhere, the argument arises that books are self-regulating, and that a kid who is too young for a certain book won't be interested in it, and it they do get hold of it, won't get the mature themes. This isn't necessarily true. I picked up a book from my mom's bedside table when I was about 8 that ended up being about mob violence and had a graphic rape scene that I FULLY understood. I had nightmares for weeks. As an adult, I can say with complete honesty that I wish my mother had noticed I'd taken the book and hadn't let me read it. We did have the sort of relationship where I could have gone to her and talked about it, but I didn't know what to say, and she couldn't take those images away just by listening to an eight year old talk about it.
I'm not saying this is black and white. There are books that I wouldn't let one kid read that I would let another kid of the same age read, based on mental and emotional maturity. And it's true that the same themes are present on television and in movies- that my kids won't be watching until I'm comfortable with it. And there is ugliness in the world, but that doesn't mean young children are emotionally or mentally capable of understanding or dealing with it. And just because violence and rape and (whatever thing you don't want a kid reading about, insert your deal here) exists in the world and they will encounter it eventually, that doesn't mean I have to be the conduit through which they experience it.
All of this to say, I would never impose my ideas about what's appropriate for a kid to read on another parent. And if you plan on (or already do) let your kids read any and everything at any and every age, rock on. I'm sure you do it responsibly and thoughtfully. No one is out to do badly by their children. And I would never EVER march into a school, store or library armed with my personal convictions about what is ok and demand a book be removed from the shelves or curriculum. Teachers who handle hundreds of kids in their life (as opposed to my...two...) know better about what kids at [insert age] can handle than I claim to. But my house is floor to ceiling books, and a curious nine year old might just grab whatever because it has an interesting cover and they're bored. If that thing they grab happens to be Lady Chatterley's Lover, I'm taking it away for now and quickly giving them something more age-appropriate. That doesn't make me a book banner. It just makes me a parent...maybe a strict one, but that's not wrong.
*To clarify- my issues are mainly with graphic sexual content and violence. I wouldn't ever stop my child from reading something because of the ideas presented. For example, my husband and I are Christians, but I wouldn't stop them from reading something about atheism or whatever. I think Sarah Palin is nuts, but I wouldn't stop my kid from reading her books...though I would cry a little [but again, this is personal- if your family is Jewish and you don't want your kids reading the philosophy of anti-semitism, I'm not going to argue with you]. The exploration of ideas does not, in my opinion, have an age appropriate standard. The exposure to graphic violence or erotic content does.