Saturday, September 24, 2011

Banned Book Week: September 24 to October 1

Each year, the American Library Association hosts a Banned Book Week event to bring attention to censorship of some of the works by highly acclaimed authors that has been challenged by the public. People, especially parents, claim these works are detrimental to young children and should be taken from the shelves of local libraries.

Here is what the ALA has to say regarding the freedom to read. I’ve shortened it somewhat so if you want to read the statement in its entirety, you can do that on the ALA website.

This freedom, not only to choose what we read, but also to select from a full array of possibilities, is firmly rooted in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Although we enjoy an increasing quantity and availability of information and reading material, we must remain vigilant to ensure that access to this material is preserved; would-be censors who continue to threaten the freedom to read come from all quarters and all political persuasions. Even if well intentioned, censors try to limit the freedom of others to choose what they read, see, or hear.

Most (objections) occur in schools and school libraries. Challenges are typically motivated by the desire to protect children.

Individuals may restrict what they read themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or seeing that material, the ALA said. The challenges are not brought by people merely expressing a point of view; rather, they represent requests to remove materials from schools or libraries, thus restricting access to them by others. Even when the eventual outcome allows the book to stay on the library shelves and even when the person is a lone protester, the censorship attempt is real. Someone has tried to restrict another person’s ability to choose.

The following is a very small piece of the list of books that have been challenged in the past few years. I’ve read these books myself. Take a look and pay particular attention to how many of them added to our understanding of different events in the history of our country and the world, as well as day-to-day issues. You can see the rest of the books on the ALA website.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank: Officials at the Culpepper County, Virginia, public schools decided to stop assigning a version of Anne Frank’s diary due to the complaint that the book includes sexual material and homosexual themes.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson: Teachers in the Richland, Washington, high schools said the book deals with prejudice against Japanese-Americans in the Pacific Northwest during and after World War II.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: A parent in Brampton, Ontario, objected to language used in the novel, including the word “nigger.”

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary: A parent complained when a child came across the term “oral sex.” Officials at the Menifee, California, Union School District formed a committee to consider a permanent ban of the dictionary.

Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen: The New Rochelle, New York, Board of Education replaced all copies of this memoir after school officials tore pages from the book deemed “inappropriate” due to sexual content and strong language.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens): This book was retained by the Manchester, Connecticut, School District following a requirement that the teachers attend seminars on how to deal with issues of race before teaching the book in their classrooms.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy: Parents in Kanawha County, West Virginia, complained about the book’s scenes of violence, sexual assault, child rage, suicide and more.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: A complaint was filed in Greencastle-Antrim, Pennsylvania, because of “racial slurs” and profanity throughout the novel.

Other books on the list I’ve read include several novels by Stephen King, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Separate Peace by John Knowles (one of my favorite books of all time), The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and more.

What can you do to help? You can get involved with groups that are committed to preserving the right to read, such as the Freedom to Read Foundation ( and The National Coalition Against Censorship (

You can also get involved on a local level. One way I do that is I am a member of the local library board and I take that position very seriously. However, you don’t need to go to participate in ways that require a huge commitment of time and emotion. Volunteer for an hour or two each week at your neighborhood library. Attend and participate in public hearings where you can express your support the right to read. Join Friends of the Libraries and parent-teacher organizations to become an advocate for community education groups. Write letters to public officials and the local newspaper(s).

And … participate in Banned Books Week!

To help draw attention to the issue of censoring books, 259 blogs are participating in a Banned Books Week hop. I’ve visited some of the blogs and have found some great giveaways. The hop is being hosted by Kathy at I Am A Reader, Not A Writer. Stop by her blog and see the list.

I realize this post is rather long, but this is a very important issue to me. As a journalist, freelance writer and avid reader, it saddens me whenever I hear of another book being added to the list. I hope you’ll take the time to read more about this topic.

No comments: