Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Banned Books Week

When  I was a young bookseller in Dallas, one of my great joys was celebrating our freedom to read during the American Library Association's week for raising awareness of the many challenges to  books in public schools and public libraries--that is, Banned Books Week! Early comments to our display in Dallas reflected confusion: "So, you're saying we shouldn't read these books?" and, upon clarification of the display's purpose for putting them at more ready public access, dismay: "But if they're bad, kids shouldn't be reading them!" My English major heart (I only had one and one-third degrees in English at the time) wept a little, and my bookseller/activist heart just got all pissed off. I recall one heated discussion with a customer in which my (quite reasonable, I thought) argument that one read the book before banning it was dismissed as unnecessary. Those patrons failed to understand context within the book as well as the child reader's great capacity for discernment between responsible and irresponsible behavior.

As a teacher of children's and young adult literatures, I talked with my students (more pointedly during Banned Books Week, but all the time) about access to information, reasons for challenges, fear among parents and teachers, and, again, children's and teens' ability to make wise and responsible choices about their reading.

So, this Banned Books Week, which, this year, highlights the contributions of and controversy over graphic novels, I invite my readers to consider their own favorite banned or challenged books. Likewise, I invite you to consider books you might have liked to ban or challenge (or simply reshelve in an obscure location). What are your own reactive impulses toward books you find harmful, painful, insipid, or otherwise objectionable? Do your own impulses (even if you don't act on them) give you insight into or empathy for those who do challenge books? What, ultimately,  prevents you from challenging books?

Read more about the ALA's celebration here: Banned Books Week. Read more about challenges and intellectual freedom here ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom and here National Coalition Against Censorship.

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