Friday, October 1, 2010

Celebrating the Freedom To Read

Today one of our local libraries had "Freedom To Read" events all day long in honor of Banned Books Week, a program spearheaded by the American Library Association to fight censorship of books in public libraries.  At our local event, people from the community read passages from their favorite books that have been challenged or banned from either school or community libraries.

This was an eye-opening event for me because while we hear occasionally about such things as families trying to remove the Harry Potter series from libraries because it promotes the occult, I thought that we had grown beyond quite so much focus on censorship.  However, the BBW produced a booklet of the books that, in 2009-2010,  people had challenged and, in many cases, have been successful in either restricting or banning completely from schools and libraries, and I was amazed to see how many books are still being disputed.  Some I'm not familiar with, but from the title alone, I could see how some people might have concerns (although they all seemed to be appropriate to me for an audience above the elementary level).  Some, however, I found unbelievable.   In Texas, one father objects to the Newbery Honors award winner The Egypt Game because it features "evil gods and black magic."  While libraries across the country are doing special programs in honor of the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, a school in Ontario removed the book because it uses "the N word."  A school in California has pulled The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary because it contains definitions of sexual activities.  But the worst of all to my mind--the schools in Virginia that agreed to drop The Diary of Anne Frank from their curriculum because it contained "sexual material and homosexual themes."

The library also had a book of the 100 most-frequently challenged, restricted, or banned books of all times.  Many of them I had heard complaints about, such as Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, and the like.  But some of the most popular middle school writers and books were on the list, including Newbery winner A Wrinkle in Time ("can confuse children about good and evil and lists Jesus Christ in the same category as premier artists, philosophers, and scientists"), Junie B. Jones ("sassy behavior"), and Are You There, God?  It's Me, Margaret ("frank treatment of adolescent sexuality and religion").  More predictably, the Twilight series also made the list for its sexual content.  The one that really knocked me for a loop, though, was the attempt to ban Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle.  ERIC CARLE?  He of the torn painted tissue paper?  And the reason listed for the challenge was "sexual content and nude illustration."  ERIC CARLE???  It took me two libraries, but I finally tracked down a copy of the book.  There is one illustration of two naked people by a tree that I assume are supposed to be Adam and Eve, although the book does not say that.  And there are vague suggestions of male and female anatomy, although I doubt it is anything that the target audience (which should be around 3-6, given the simplicity of the language and story) would notice.

Anyway, it was all a great reminder for me of how much I take our libraries, our relatively open-minded community, and our American freedoms of expression for granted.

If you want to check out the list of book challenges over the past year for yourself, visit the ALA site.

1 comment:

  1. That's why books need to be online with Creative Commons license. Not exclusively, but that too. As the saying goes, "BAN THIS!" It's very hard to ban peer-to-peer sharing of electronic media.