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Banned books week starts Saturday

September 25, 2009

Freedom of expression only starts with the right of authors to create whatever stories their talent and imagination dictates. It ends with your right to read anything you choose, unfettered by government, moralists or the guardians of either religious or political correctness. Who stands at the front line? Librarians.

Banned Books Week, an annual awareness campaign sponsored by the American Library Association and other groups, starts Saturday and runs through Oct. 3. Since 1982, BBW has stressed “the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.”

In the United States, most challenges against individual books take place in school libraries, and, to a lesser extent, public libraries and bookstores.

For example, a school district in Oklahoma canceled a visit by Ellen Hopkins, a young adult novelist, after only one parent complain against her best-selling book, Crank and Glass, loosely based on her own daughter’s addiction to methamphetamine, according to the Guardian.

“No one person should have that kind of power,” Hopkins said. “No person should be able to choose what anyone else’s child can or can’t read, let alone who they can see speak to. Some of the kids were devastated.”

According to the American Library Association, there were 513 challenges to books reported in 2008, up from 420 the previous year.

The ALA’s top ten list of most frequently challenged books for 2008 includes Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel, The Kite Runner; Philip Pullman’s enduringly popular fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials; and the YA pop novel, Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar.

The single most challenged book, however, was And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole, about two male penguins who form a bond and are given an egg to raise. It’s based on a true story that happened at the Central Park Zoo in New York.

Over the years many beloved classic books have been challenged, too, and not only racy titles like James Joyce’s Ulyssess or Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, but also: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck; 1984, by George Orwell; In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote.

And The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein –a Christian allegory–was not merely challenged but burned outside a church in New Mexico in 2001, along with other Tolkein books, on the grounds of “satanic” content.

Since the beginning of this century, reports the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, sexually explicit content has been the leading cause of book challenges. Books have also been challenged for offensive language, for being deemed unsuited to a particular age group, for violence, homosexuality, “anti-family” content, or religious viewpoint.

As a father of three daughters — now all grown and, miraculously, still readers — I agree that children are best shielded from books not appropriate for their ages. But it’s my job as a parent to make those decisions, not some school board, church, political organization, and certainly not some other parent.

The unsung heroes of the battle for intellectual freed are librarians, almost always first to resist efforts to ban or restrict books. So if you do nothing else in the coming week, thank a librarian.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2009 11:44 am

    Is banning a book any different than burning one ? I have had my book entered into 14 libraries around the world so far. One place that would not take it was the West Palm Beach County Library. I was told that the group (unknown board) thought some of the grammar was improper. I was stunned. I told her it was written that way on purpose Her reply was you never teach bad grammar.

    I told her three things. The book was written so children would have fun with words. Lots of fun. I do not teach grammar. That will come later. If children have fun with words, they may one day have fun with grammar.

    The second reason I wrote the book was to let children know it is great to dream. Then dream some more.

    The third reason was to show children it is wonderful to be different. Different than your sister, brother and friends. Different is good.

    I was then told one member said the book was, well, too Childish. At that point I thanked her and said I have to move on. I did tell her that I thought it was the job of the parents to decide with their children about this book or any book. Little did she know the book has been loved and applauded by some of the best early childhood educators in the country already. So you see I have reached the wonderful group or club of banned book authors. It is my finest hour. PurpleUmpkin has taken its place in history. The Murples could not be prouder.

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    September 25, 2009 12:10 pm

    Authors of banned books–you should be proud! Can’t think of a better way to get a book read. I read banned books!!

  3. September 25, 2009 12:57 pm

    I will be reading Of Mice and Men this year, and I’m excited to finally knock it off the TBR Pile 🙂

  4. rachel permalink
    September 25, 2009 4:25 pm

    Here here Candice! I read banned books too.

    Go librarians. Thank you.

  5. lizz permalink
    September 29, 2009 8:33 pm

    Fortunately for me, many books I was required to read in my public school system were listed as “challenged”. These books are often the most thought provoking and engaging ones. Baning a book takes away the right to express ourselves–both for the reader and the writer.

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