Celebrate Your Freedom to Read!

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Celebrate Your Freedom to Read!

Happy Banned Books Week!  

DC Public Library invites you to celebrate the freedom to read with us during Banned Books Week (9/27-10/3).  
Every year, a week at the end of September is set aside by the American Library Association as a time to raise awareness of book banning/challenges and the perils of censorship, as well as to celebrate our ability to read and share books that have been removed from shelves elsewhere in the country/world.

The week is off to a good start here in DC, with the Information Antics art show in full swing, a Harry Potter movie marathon this weekend, and some fantastic author events, book discussions, and craft programs already under our belts.  

Now, it's time for everyone to pick up a banned or challenged book!

According to the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, “challenges are [often] motivated by a desire to protect children from ‘inappropriate’ sexual content or ‘offensive’ language” (http://www.ala.org/bbooks/about).  Librarians acknowledge a parent’s right to restrict their children’s access to materials they deem unsuitable.  However, this applies only to their own children.  Selection turns to censorship when a person decides that access to library materials must be restricted for everyone - it removes individual choice.  

A glance through the list of the top 100 banned and challenged books from 2000-2009 shows that people tend to ban both genre fiction (especially fantasy) and realistic fiction: the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling takes top spot, followed immediately by the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, a 28-book series featuring a young girl's trials and tribulations growing up in Silver Spring. "Witchcraft!" cries one camp of censors.  "Inappropriate content!" respond the others.  

In the spirit of fairness, I've compiled a list of six titles, all of which are very popular, many of which have won awards for literary merit.  These are picture books, chapter books, and YA novels: half are fantasy books, and half are realistic fiction.  So.  Take time this week to celebrate intellectual freedom. Challenge yourself, open your mind, and read some banned children's and teen books!


Picture bookWhere the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak was challenged for being “dark and disturbing”.  

Chapter book (series): Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain (The Book of ThreeThe Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King) were challenged as required reading at the Northbridge Middle School because of a fear that "young minds would be drawn to the allure of witchcraft and black magic that runs through the books".

Young Adult fictionNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman was challenged and temporarily removed from a high school library in New Mexico due to “inappropriate content”.


Picture bookThe Family Book by Todd Parr was banned in Erie, Illinois because of a line that reads, “some families have two moms or two dads”.

Chapter book (series): The Alice series was banned and challenged for containing scenes with nudity and offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

Young Adult fictionEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell was challenged in Anoka-Hennepin County, Minnesota, citing its use of profanity and its treatment of sexuality.


It is very easy to mock those who ban or challenge books. After all, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. was banned because a different author with the same name wrote a book called Ethical Marxism.  (http://bit.ly/1jAtd2E)   Harriet M. Welsch, the eponymous eleven-year-old protagonist of Harriet the Spy, was denounced as “a terrible role model for children”, one who would encourage them to lie and spy and generally behave badly. That was reason enough to challenge the book in Xenia, Ohio (http://bit.ly/1JtEtTl).  The Diary of Anne Frank was banned because it was "too depressing". 
But rather than making fun of their misguided fears, we must try to understand why people are still trying to remove books from library shelves. 

Sometimes, it's easy to understand why a challenge is made: a number of older books include racial stereotypes (http://bit.ly/1OJvkOx) that we no longer feel are acceptable.  However, that still doesn’t mean that the book should be removed.   It just means people, parents, need to be willing to explain why something was said - and why it's wrong.  
It's equivalent to the publishers a few years ago who reissued The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and substituted "slave" and "Indian" for the original terms Twain used.  While certain words may make 21st century readers uncomfortable, the author used them for a reason - sometimes to provoke just this kind of discomfort, sometimes to be faithful to the language of the time, sometimes simply because the book is a product of a culture that thought and spoke in a way we no longer find palatable.  A thoughtful discussion, rather than simple dismissal of the text, is called for, whether it's between a parent and child reading If I Ran the Zoo or in a classroom where students are talking about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
(Interestingly enough, Alan Gribben, the scholar who decided to reissue Huck Finn in this modified (censored) form, explains that he was motivated by an attempt to avoid what he calls "pre-emptive censorship" by schools who would rather remove the book from a 
curriculum than utter a racial slur.)

You can read more about Banned Books Week, censorship, and the way diverse books are so often targeted by censors, on the ALA's website and at http://www.bannedbooksweek.org.