Banning books? The greatest marketing scheme to get kids to read again

by By Carew Papritz, award-winning author of The Legacy Letters

Don’t touch that hot stove! Don’t pull the dog’s tail! Don’t say bad words! Tell a kid that they can’t do something and what’s the normal response? Do it. Why? Because your parents, the commanders of your universe, told you not to not to do it. Don’t they understand? Don’t they remember being a kid—and that delicious wanting to know what’s on the other side of “Don’t?” Like a pre-ordained chemical reaction, your immediate kid-thought is “Why can’t I do that?” which is the simultaneous birthplace of both curiosity and independence.

One of my greatest joys as an author is to inspire kids to read. Books were my curiosity creators and my independence days. I could dream up entire universes of imagination and possibility, all within this hand-held, human-made wonder. Never in my life could I imagine not reading nor being told I couldn’t read something.

But to ban a book? Why?

And now you have stirred up, worked up, and steamed up . . . provoked, agitated, and aroused . . awakened, impassioned, and stimulated me to wonder why, where, and how you do that to a book? Because now you have “Don’ted” me. By unleashing the Kid Kraken in me once again, you are practically forcing me to read a book I probably never would have bothered to read.

To all book banners . . . thank you.

You have now unleashed one of the oldest unintentional human marketing schemes since the dawn of kids. The “Don’t.” You have done the one thing you can’t do to kids—make something mysterious or forbidden. And now, they want to read the book you have banned. I’m sure this was not your intention but, nonetheless, you have unleashed the good intentions behind the power of “Don’t.” Because if the book you’re banning contains forbidden or mysterious information that adults don’t want you to read, it must be worth reading.

Sometimes humor is the greatest arrow to puncture the air-filled pompousness of those who claim to be more perfect than the rest of us. Sometimes one has to be the kid to tell the emperor that he has no clothes. Or that the only way to truly fight monkeys is to use bananas.

You—as in book banners—are now in the marketing business. You tell kids that the books you are banning can’t be read because you can’t trust them to figure out if they should be read or not. Your marketing motto should be “Books your parents don’t want you to read.” Brilliant. That will seal the deal. Why did “1984” become a bestseller again? Because it was banned . . . again.

And all those obscure books you’re ferreting out to ban? Now you’re really helping to put them on the map and even making them bestsellers again. Some are books that maybe a few kids might have read, if at all. Now kids—and parents— want to read them because you say not to read them. Brilliant marketing and marvelous adult logic.

The 10-Million Pound Elephant in the Room is the Internet.

If you’re scared of the books in the library, you should be horrified at the Internet. You think that banning books about identity, sexuality, racism, slavery, or finger painting is going to stop a kid from wanting to know—if they want to know more? Nope. Now they can turn to your worst nightmare—the Internet. Because most likely what they’ll encounter on the web is absolutely everything you don’t want them to see or hear in the most graphic ways you can and can’t imagine. Now put the visual genie back in the bottle. The more taboo you make it, the more likely they’ll search it out on the net. If Nature abhors a vacuum, then curiosity abhors knowledge that’s locked up.

“Finger-wagging” Liberty—You Know Better than We Do. 

Some of us are more perfect than others. We all know who they are because they let us know how perfect they are. They “tut-tut” us for not being them. And when it comes to books, they know what’s best for you to read, or not to read.

Yes, I understand that some of these books you’re banning are scary to read, especially for kids. But there it is again, the logic that by taking away access to knowledge prevents someone from finding that knowledge. What are you afraid of? People making their own decisions about what to read? I know you’re scared of change. But guess what? The only real constant in life is change. Might as well try to push back the ocean.

By banning a book, you are choosing to decide my own reading destiny—the liberty for me to choose what to read. Freedom is not about taking one’s choice away. It’s about giving more choices. That’s the beauty of it. And trusting us to figure it out. We’re not all perfect but we’re trying our best.

Taking away a Book that’s Offensive Offends Me.

Books are easy to bully. You can pretty much find anything in any book you want to be offended by. That’s the ultimate slippery slope of book banning. Heck, you can even be offended by “The Cat in the Hat,” or “Goodnight Moon,” or “Winnie the Pooh,” if you really want to find something to be offended by. Even the Bible has been banned in certain libraries. Where does it end? When all books are banned?

But fundamentally what you are doing when you ban a book is taking away my freedom to be offended. Please don’t take away my right to be offended by something I may want to read—or not.

What are We Teaching Our Kids? Fear.

Fear is what we teach our kids when we don’t want them to know. We don’t trust them with knowledge and learning. And they get that. So instead of communicating, we help shut down communication—the worst thing you can do with kids who are trying to figure out the world. It’s so much better to talk with them about ideas that they’re curious about because they’ll find out anyway—and maybe not in a responsible, mature way. When we work together—teachers, parents, and kids—we talk about how to approach ideas because talk is the secret sauce that allows us to hash out our thoughts, concerns, and worries in a constructive way. Fear loves secrecy. It thrives on lack of communication. The more we talk, and walk our talk, the less that fear rules our lives.

What Should We Teach Our Kids? Trust.

Let’s trust our kids to explore. To be curious. And give them the freedom to be curious. That’s a powerful form of liberty for kids. But also, we need to teach our kids to fall, so that they learn to pick themselves up again. We need to teach them and show them how to become adults because that’s our job. They are adults-in-training. Which means they don’t get all the keys to the adult kingdom all at once. These keys have to be learned and earned. And that’s our job too.

Banning books is about banning knowledge. If knowledge is power, then why don’t we want our kids to be powerful with their lives? Instead of secreting away the knowledge, let’s talk with our kids about these books—if they want to talk about it. Let’s show them how maturity works. How talking works. How trusting works.

Yes, there are times when we need to use the word, “Don’t.” But more importantly is when to use the word, “Do.” Kids really get it, especially nowadays. They’re not stupid. They’re just as hungry to figure out the world as ever and they know how to access knowledge. When you ban a book, you tell a child you don’t trust them. When you hide knowledge, who are you hiding it from? And why?

Our job as parents is to teach our kids where that knowledge fits into the world. How to question it and how to use it—or not use it. The freedom to learn, to question, to comprehend, to converse, and to do it over and over again is one of the greatest legacies that books continue to give us, and nobody can take liberty and legacy away from us.



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