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Sunday Reflections: This Banned Books Week Feels Different

The first time I ever made it into the report to a library board was for Banned Books Week. I had put up a display – a rather fabulous display I might at – to help make patrons aware of the fact that books are challenged and banned across the country on a regular basis and a patron took umbrage. This patron took their umbrage all the way to the board, who maintained that it was a good display. But I still ended up in the annual report to the directors because it was a really big deal.

So here we are, once again, at the beginning of a Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week is an initiative in libraries to help make people aware of the fact that people often try to ban books from libraries. It happens far more often in school libraries than it does in public libraries, but it happens. When someone tries to get a book removed, it’s called a challenge. They are challenging whether or not the book should be in the school library, read in the classroom, or on school reading lists. Libraries often also get challenges to displays.

The process of a challenge usually goes like this. First, a parent or a patron makes a complaint. If your school or library is doing it correctly, they actually have a formal process outlined and staff are trained and that parent or patron is instructed of the process and asked to follow it. So then they will fill out a form outlining their complaint. It then goes through a review process. Almost always, the book is retained, especially in a public library, but the philosophy is that although this book may not be right for you, you don’t get to make those decisions for other people. I can’t speak to the process in public schools, because I am a public librarian, not a school librarian or teacher.

It’s a misnomer, really, to say that a book is banned when it is removed from a school library. Because even if a book is removed from a school library, it’s not really being banned. Kids just can’t check out and read it from their school library. But for many kids, this would take away their primary access point for books, so it is a big deal, even if technically the book isn’t being banned. So semantics aside, it is a dangerous and horrifying precedent to have one parent or a small group of parents get to decide that an entire school building full of children shouldn’t have access to a book at the school library because they personally find it offensive.

These past couple of weeks we’ve actually seen a lot of incidents of book challenges and removals. In York Pennsylvania, a list of book by and about marginalized people was banned by the local school board in that school district. Although the students and community protested and the ruling was overturned, it was devastating to witness award winning and life affirming books like Hair Love by Matthew Cherry and I am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer deemed unacceptable for a school system because they what – affirm the lives of Black people? How soul crushing it must have been for every Black kid in that school district to have their lives deemed offensive in this way.

In Leander, Texas there is another big challenge happening. Some of the books being removed here include Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez and Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes. There was also a challenge recently in Iriving, this time in the public library, and the books challenged here dealt with LGBTQ+ issues. In fact, if you look at the ALA’s annual list of the top books that are challenged in the previous year, they almost always include a high number of books that feature LGBTQ+ people and themes.

This year, as we see law after law being passed against transgender kids and allowing medical personnel to refuse lifesaving treatment against members of the LGBTQ+ community if it’s against your personal beliefs. This year, as we see parents storm local school board meetings to demand that anti-racist education be taken out of our schools. This year, as we see women’s rights to make their own medical decisions take huge steps backwards. This year, as our children huddle in classroom corners to practice active shooter drills and states pass permit-less carry bills but won’t pass mask mandates to protect our children from a deadly virus. This year, more than ever, Banned Books Week seems far too relevant.

Not too far back in 2012, the Texas legislature actually tried to pass a bill outlawing the teaching of critical thinking skills in education because it invited a person to challenge fixed beliefs and undermined parental authority. There are a lot of people that are afraid of being exposed to new and challenging ideas because sometimes, those ideas demand of us change. I have often heard the idea that change is scary and as a person with anxiety and control issues, I get that. But I have also come to understand that for some people it’s not that they fear change in and of itself, it is about losing power. Power and its always nearby corollary, money. Some people, it turns out, are willing to let states burn and a country be ravaged by a deadly virus while they actively spew disinformation as long as they get to keep their power – and their money. Never underestimate what a person will do for power and money.

I have had to deal with book challenges in the past. There was an award winning Christian fiction book in which the characters had sex and said swear words that a patron objected to being in our Christian fiction collection, despite the fact that it was sold by a Christian publisher and was on award winning Christian fiction lists. There was a book about World War II that featured a picture of naked dead bodies in a concentration camp. Please note that they did not object to the violence, just the nudity. There was the children’s picture book that featured a family where the parents had a tattoo.

Working in the public sphere has always been somewhat terrifying. But right now, something is different. I have seen videos of parents storming local school board meetings and even threatening doctors as they have left for asking for mask mandates because the local hospitals are overwhelmed and they just need the public’s help. And I have seen videos of parents challenging the local police outside of a school and telling their kids just to rush into the school without their masks despite local ordinances and school rules requiring masks. And I have seen videos of parents yelling and fuming about CRT theory and specific books at local school board meetings. What is happening right now feels different than every challenge I have ever faced before in my 28 career in public libraries. No one has ever threatened me about a book, not even the woman who took her complaints about my Banned Books Week display all the way to the board.

So as we enter into yet another Banned Books Week, this one feels different. The stakes feel higher. Certain people group’s identities and histories are being challenged, being erased, and I can’t help but think of what kind of emotional impact that has on these kids that just want the world to see them, to hear them, to love them, to keep them safe. I don’t know, I don’t have a great way to end this Sunday Reflection. I guess it’s just that, this Banned Books Week feels different.

In the News: A Pennsylvania School Bans a List of Books by Black and Latinx Authors

Edited to add this corrective note: Not all of the authors are authors of color, though all of the books are written by, illustrated by, or are about people of color or people involved in feminist and anti-racist work.

Also, there is a Central York Banned Books Club Twitter account you can follow: https://twitter.com/CYBannedBooks

Every once in a while, you hear about books being banned, typically from school reading lists or in school districts. The most typical reasons for books to be banned has to do with language, sex, drugs or, sadly, having LGBTQ content. You can find out more about challenged and banned books through the ALA (American Library Association) Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF).

I wanted to bring a recent book banning situation to all of our attention because it mirrors what we see happening in the largest scope of education. Last year, there started to be massive pushback against anti-racist education, particularly something called Critical Race Theory. It’s important to note here that Critical Race Theory is a specific application of legal scholarship that is taught at the university level. What is taught in our public schools is just history and the truth is, there is a lot of racism in the history of America and in all countries, honestly. Education Week has an article with more information on that here.

This Board Book is on the list of books banned in Central York. It is not by an author of color, but it is about the very true story of Rosa Parks

In October of last year, a list of books were banned in Central York, Pennsylvania, and among these books were books about Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai and even a book by Sesame Street. There were school board meetings and students protests but last week, the school board voted to uphold the ban.

You can find a complete list of the books being banned here: https://twitter.com/CYBannedBooks/status/1439754512995176450

It’s important to note that the list of books being banned are (mostly) all by Black and Latinx authors. Authors of color have fought long and hard to even get their books published and we are just now starting to see a bit more equity in publishing, it is heartbreaking and maddening to see schools banning these books for speaking the truth of racial injustice in the world.

We owe it to our kids to teach them the truth of history. It’s only in facing who we were that we can work to become a better version of ourself as a country. And clearly, it’s not even who we were, because we are clearly still fighting against racial injustice in the here and now. It’s not even about history, it’s about truth and the basic humanity of every kid who walks into our schools.

There are a lot of discussions about this happening out there. Here are some resources to check out:

A List of Articles Discussing the Issue: https://www.ydr.com/story/news/2021/09/14/books-and-other-resources-banned-central-york-school-board/8333108002/

https://www.pennlive.com/news/2021/09/ban-on-books-by-or-about-minorities-sparks-protests-national-news-in-york-county.html

Banned Books Week 2014

If you were to visit the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (in Ohio) and ask to read their board minutes, you would find my name in there twice. The second time is when I left for a new job and they passed a proclamation in my honor regarding how I had helped to start their YA services program. But the first time . . . well, that was when a patron went all the way to the board to complain about my Banned Books Week display. It was offensive she said because of course we should be censoring books – that’s how we protect our children.

The thing is, I don’t necessarily agree that our children need protecting. I think that they need empowering and equipping. I think that they need the tools to live in this world full of people who are different then them, who think differently then them. That is one of the hallmarks of freedom, intellectual freedom. I think that they need the tools to help them develop empathy and compassion, which is something that story can help us do. Recent research has indicated that reading Harry Potter, for example, makes for very compassionate kids. That’s a good goal.

But more importantly, those very people who want to censor books because they say it is protecting kids, they need to realize that many of our kids are actually living those stories. Those books help give those kids a voice. If we censor their stories, we are sending messages that shame them and keep them silent. But if we read stories of lives that seem almost exactly like theirs – what an empowering moment that can be for them. Story can take that which hides in the dark and shine a light on it.

So when my name appeared in the board minutes at the PLMVKC, you should know that the board made the right call and the Banned Books Week display remained. Because while every librarian supports your right to raise your children as you want, what we don’t support is the right for you to put your personal views and opinions on children that are not your own. One day this summer The Tween came home crying from a friend’s house. You see, she had called and asked if she could watch a movie – a horror movie – and I said no. So instead of choosing another movie, her friends asked her to go sit in the bathroom for an hour or so while they watched it. Instead, she just came home. That’s how this works, I decide for my children and you decide for yours. And that’s why Banned Books Week exists, to remind us all that there are those who would still want to censor books, which is a very bad thing. Because those who control the flow of information can control the world, which is why I – and librarians like me – support intellectual freedom. And intellectual freedom demands that we be willing to allow those books that we might personally find offensive to co-exist with those books that we readily embrace.  Because when we talk about censorship our first question should always be: who gets to be the censor? Chances are it’s not going to be you.

So in honor of our freedom to read, here are some previous Banned Books Week posts at TLT:

A Banned Books Week Primer  

Teen Fiction Is . . . too dark?

Annie On My Mind and On My Banned Books Week Calendar 

The Giver by Lois Lowry – a guest post by Elsa Ouvrard-Prettol  
 

The Harry Potter Series – a guest post by Geri Diorio   

An important Banned Books Week read – The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa 

Considering throwing our your materials challenge form?
 

When the censorship comes from inside the building 
 

An anonymous letter to those who would ban Eleanor and Park

Redefining the 3 R’s for Banned Books Week

This one time, at Banned camp . . . (An adventure of Super Librarian for Banned Books Week)

Dirty Little Library Secrets: We forgot to tell the staff not to ban the books

Amy speaks: Pretty Amy’s censorship uncensored (a guest post by Lisa Burstein)

Banned Books Week Roundup: Read In, Speak Out for Libraries!

Friday Finds – September 27, 2013

This Week at TLT

It’s Banned Books Week! 

In Defense of Banned Books

An important Banned Books Week read – The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa 

Our Cress Casting Call winner (chosen in a random drawing) was KikiD!

Book Reviews

5 Books to look forward to from Scholastic 

VOYA’s 2012 Nonfiction Honor List – Take 5

Previously at TLT

Redefining the 3 R’s for Banned Books Week

We reviewed The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Around the Web

Maureen Johnson posted an interesting response to the David Gilmour kerfuffle.

Buzzfeed posted an awesome list of 11 quotes from authors on censorship and banned books.

New Divergent Movie posters are available!

Buzzfeed put together this list of reasons that Supernatural fans should read Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Why The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa is an Important Banned Books Week Read

1984. Fahrenheit 451. Brave New World.  These are all great, classic reads that highlight the dangers of censorship.  Two of them happen to be among my favorite books of all time.  Brave New World is not.  But sometimes, authors can slip in powerful statements against censorship in the most surprising of places.  Exhibit A: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa.

The Immortal Rules is the first book in The Blood of Eden series by Kagawa.  It is set in a world where vampires rule.  Not sparkly vampires, but tyrannical vampires who will, in fact, suck you dry if you do not comply.  All humans are forced to register with the new vampire government and are forced to basically pay a blood tax.  Those humans that don’t register remain outside the city limits on the fringe where they barely survive, scrounging for food and praying for safety.  One wrong step and you may suddenly find yourself being used as an example.  Not a good example, but a food example.

This is where we meet Allie.  Allie refuses to register and is hanging with a rag-tag gang who despise the vampire monsters.  And Allie likes to read, which has basically been outlawed.  Understanding the danger of knowledge, the vampires have burned the libraries and tried to destroy all the books.  Allie remembers her mother reading to her as a little girl, and she knows how.  Occasionally she stumbles upon a book and she takes them to her “home”, trying to keep her stash secret.  It is in this world that we find a great defense against censorship:

“Words define us,’ Mom continued, as I struggled to make my clumsy marks look like her elegant script. ‘We must protect our knowledge and pass it on whenever we can. If we are ever to become a society again, we must teach others how to remain human.”

“There will come a time when man is no longer concerned only with survival, when he will once more be curious as to who came before him, what life was like a thousand years ago, and he will seek out answers for a hundred years or so, but humans’ curiosity has always driven them to find answers.” 

“I recognized it instantly. It was a made-up story, a fantasy, the tale of four kids who went through a magic wardrobe and found themselves in a strange new world. I’d read it more times than I could remember, and although I sneered at the thought of a magical land with friendly, talking animals, there were times when I wished, in my most secret moments, that I could find a hidden door that would take us all out of this place.” 

Allie despises the fact that those around her choose to cower in fear and ignorance.  She speaks often of the fact that if they understood what they were capable of, what the world could be like, they would choose to rise up and fight against the vampires.  Which is the very reason that the vampires have burned the books.  They understand that knowledge and story are powerful things.  That they can inspire.  That they can ignite. That they can lead those they wish to rule to challenge that rule.  And in this world we see a subtle, powerful and glaring reminder of just why we must fight for the freedom to read.  The knowledge found in the pages of books can empower us all, and those who wish to rule us would love to take that power away.  The best way to do that is to ban the books.  The Immortal Rules takes us on an exciting journey in this vampire filled world and uses this journey to remind us all, we must fight against censorship because we must fight for our right to rule ourselves.  Also, this is just a really good series.  And there are some really interesting twists.  Read it for Banned Books Week.

Banned Books Week: When the censorship comes from inside the building

When our fearless leader Karen asked me to write a post on the experiences I’ve had as a school
librarian with book challenges, I was flummoxed. I’ve never had an item challenged. It’s not that I’ve never had a parent concerned about a title in the collection – I’ve had several that I can remember. It’s just that these concerned parents merely wanted to be heard, to have their concerns acknowledged. Honestly, most of my parents are either so hands-off that they aren’t concerned with what their child is reading, or they are so hands-on that their children are well aware of what they are and aren’t allowed to read. I have been very fortunate.

What I have had to deal with, though, was even more insidious. It became apparent several years ago that certain titles from the library’s collection were disappearing. I figured this out mostly because students wanted the titles and while the catalog claimed they were in, they were never on the shelf. This was at a time in the past when I had a full time assistant who ran the circulation desk and supervised shelving, so items seldom went missing. Right now I run the library on my own and the students check in and out their own materials – things go missing constantly – but that’s a story for another day.


A sampling of the titles that were going missing included Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, Meg Cabot’s Ready or Not, and 101 Questions About Sex and Sexuality. I was understandably frustrated by this situation, as were the students. We combed the shelves for these titles, but they were nowhere to be found.

At this point I was torn. It was equally conceivable that we had a self-appointed censor or that we had students who were just too embarrassed to check out these titles. I decided that the best remedy for this situation would be to purchase 2 replacements for each item that had gone missing from the collection. Then, if any of these items went missing, I would purchase 2 replacements for them. So each time a book went missing, two would pop up in it’s place. My thought was that if students were too embarrassed to check these items out and were smuggling them out of the library, they must be important, somehow, and we needed more. And, if we happened to have a self-appointed censor, they would quickly see that they were fighting a losing battle.


I’m happy to say that this strategy was entirely successful, even if it did have some unintended consequences. About a year later, while shifting the reference collection, I found the missing books. Each one had been carefully hidden on the shelf behind the least used reference books. So now we have 4 copies of  101 Questions About Sex and Sexuality, 5 copies of Ready or Not, but only 2 copies of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (it circulates enough that we’ve had several fall apart.) And now each year I have to have a special talk with each of the 6th grade classes when they find 101 Questions About Sex and Sexuality. This talk generally explores the topics of:

  • who chooses the items that are purchased for the library?
  • how are the items selected?
  • which books are for sharing and which are just for you?
  • and the differences between 8th graders and 6th graders interests.

One genuinely surprising outcome of all of this is that students feel comfortable coming to the library for information on ‘sensitive’ topics. While I’m sure some of the students are still reluctant to approach me, I frequently get requests for information about human growth and development topics, including my favorite question ever, “How does the baby fit inside?”

I did eventually find out which one of my staff members had appointed herself as school library censor. She retired and someone finally told on her. I’m still not sure what she was trying to accomplish.

Banned Books Week 2013: Defending Harry Potter by Geri Diorio

It’s Banned Books Week! The most magical week in a librarian’s year! Every day, librarians celebrate the free and open access to information, but during this week, we really flaunt it. “Free and open access” includes being able to read whatever you wish, and that might mean the best-selling book series in history, a series that has been translated into more than sixty languages, a series that has a theme park, and whose author announcing that she’ll pen a movie based in the same universe as her book causes headlines worldwide. Yes, I am talking about the universally know Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. But being universally known doesn’t translate to being universally loved. The Harry Potter series is ranked number one for the most frequently challenged books of the last decade. 

Why was it challenged so often? What reasons did people give when attempting to have these books banned? Three reason were given most frequently: it promotes the occult, it has anti-family themes, and it has violence.

If your belief system tells you to avoid witchcraft and supernatural, mystical, or magical things, the Potter series certainly does seem to give you a conflict. But would it help to know that J. K. Rowling does not believe in magic? She has stated this, outright. For Rowling, magic is simply a plot device; it moves things forward in an interesting manner. And since she is very clear about good and evil in these books (good people do good with the plot device of magic and bad people do bad things with it, just as in real life, good people do good with tools and bad people do bad things them) she even has her child characters learn Defense Against the Dark Arts as part of their schooling.  But perhaps simply stating that the magic in these books is a fiction won’t help people who are concerned about this. Perhaps we can show that the spells in Harry Potter’s world don’t work in ours. Bill Peel did a elegant proof of this years ago.

The charge that the Potter series contains anti-family themes is confounding. The friendships in the book are so strong as to practically constitute familial love. The main trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione love, respect, and watch out for each other from the moment they meet on the train. The Order of the Phoenix bond together to fight for their cause, even though individuals may differ widely in their viewpoints. Even the organization of Hogwarts, with students sorted into different houses, makes students bond into familial-like units. Perhaps it is the close bonds of these friendships that upset the people who challenged the books. Let us consider the actual families in the books. Certainly the Dursleys are mean to Harry, but real families are not always loving and supportive. The Weasleys are among the most loving families ever portrayed in fiction. Molly and Arthur have created a warm and open household for their children and their friends and spouses. The Weasleys even showed the great patience that comes from strong love while waiting for Percy to return to his senses after he went to work for the corrupt Ministry of Magic. Neville’s devotion to his family is enormous and heartbreaking. Luna Lovegood and her father Xenophilius share a lovely relationship. Xenophilius raised his daughter on his own after his wife died. He showed great strength and love for his little family of two.  And James and Lily Potter look out for their boy even after their deaths; you just can’t get more loving and family friendly than that.

As for violence in Harry Potter, well, yes, in these books people are hurt and killed out of jealousy and hunger for power, but sad to say that is no different than what happens in reality. (The United States’ war with Afghanistan is currently in its twelfth year; violence is a constant in the news.) The books do get darker as they go on and as Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort draws closer, but not every book is intended for every reader, and good parenting means being involved in what books your children read. There are ages for which Harry Potter is appropriate and only you as a parent can determine what those ages are for your family. Only you have the right to determine what books your children read. Conversely, that also means that you do not have the right to determine what books other people’s children read.

Overall, the Harry Potter series actually offers a rather traditional Judeo-Christian take on morality.  Good and evil are very clear cut, even as Rowling shows how hard is can be to do the right thing. (Think of Dumbledore’s oft quoted choice between doing what is right and doing what is easy.)  Characters in Potter do not seem to be affected by traditional racism, and those who are prejudiced against non-magical people are clearly the bad guys. The heroes of the story are ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and rise to the challenge. Those same heroes are often prepared to make enormous sacrifices for the greater good. Sure, Ms. Rowling’s story is fantastical and strange at times, but at its core, it is about love, family, and doing the right thing.

~ Geri Diorio

Geri Diorio is the Teen Services Librarian and the Head of Children’s Services at the Ridgefield Library in Connecticut. She reviews books and audio and movies and apps for School Library Journal, VOYA, and Audiofile magazines and she blogs for YALSA’s The Hub. The Ninth Doctor is her Doctor, vanilla is better than chocolate, and stand-alone novels are preferable to trilogies. If you’d like to debate any of those things, you can reach her at @geridiorio.

Banned Books Week 2013: Defending The Giver by Lois Lowry (guest post by Elsa Ouvrard-Prettol)

September 22 – 28 is Banned Books Week, a week which serves to remind us that there are those who would like to ban books.  The books vary, as do the reasons.  But the bottom line should always be this: each person gets to decide for themselves what to read.  Information is power.  Story is power.  Tyrants and dictators burn books, those who believe in Democracy do not.  So this week we thought we would find some people to discuss the power and importance of some of those books that have been challenged and pulled out of schools.  Today, Elsa Ouvrar-Prettol is discussing The Giver by Lois Lowry.  

 

First confession: I did not read The Giveruntil June 2010, at the end of my first year as a librarian. While I graduated high school in 1997 and technically could have read it in H.S. since it was first published in 1993, I went to school in France, where we studied French literature. I did study English and American literatures in college, but we focused on the ‘classic’ authors. And so I came to Natomas Charter School to be the librarian, not having read one of the most well-known and studied novels of the past twenty years.

Second confession: I have always loved dystopias. And I do mean ‘always’, as in since the early 90’s when I was in middle school and discovered the genre, and not ‘always’ as in “I had never heard the word ‘dystopias’ until The Hunger Games came out, but now I love them”. So of course, I loved The Giver and Gathering Blue when I read them in 2010, and I loved Messenger and Son, when I got them later on for our collection.
I can see why some people would be troubled by the first opus of the quartet. Euthanasia, murder, suicide. Drugs. Infanticide. Violence. Sexual arousing. Life-endangering situations. The novel even starts with Jonas describing his feeling; more accurately, he is trying to find the word that pinpoints the degree of fear that he is feeling. At the same time, in just the first few pages, Lois Lowry describes Jonas’ community as a quiet, orderly place where everyone has its own role, and knows and abides by the rules. This dichotomy of Jonas being fearful in a place which makes things as comfortable as possible sets the tone for the rest of the novel, for of course, Jonas is right to be fearful. The discoveries that he makes throughout the novel (see the list at the beginning of this paragraph) transforms his view of the community to the point that he decides to leave it – a choice so radical that he will have to be presented as dead instead of runaway.
So, yes, The Giver is controversial. Of course, I would not put the book in anyone’s hands before they are ready to read it – this is the golden rule for any book, really. Give a book at someone before they are mature enough to understand it, and it will, at best, be lost on them, and at worst, turn them off from reading the book (and possibly others!) later on. But I do believe that The Giveris one of those books that middle schoolers (in that wide range of grades 6-9 that “middle school” covers throughout the country) should read at one point.
One of the lessons The Giver teaches us is about making one’s own choices, and not letting others (even well-meaning, knowledgeable ‘Elders’) make all the decisions for you. Jonas’ community might look ideal at first, and blind faith in a group of decision-makers does allow the removal of many issues: having to distinguish right from wrong, taking the risks, dealing with the possible consequences of being wrong, etc… Daily life is much easier without these burdens.
But to me, the people in Jonas’ community are more like sheep than humans. They follow blindly and willingly their leaders, trusting in their good judgment, only thinking of the bad things they are not experiencing, and having forgotten the good things they have given up. This is the lesson that I want my stepdaughter, and, in time, my daughter, to learn: knowledge is power (can you see why I became a librarian? 😉 ). I do believe in the power of knowing as much as possible about one’s situation, so as to make the best decision possible. Of course, it means that one does bear the burden of Responsibility, Consequences (good or bad), and everything that comes with them. But being one’s master is the key to one’s freedom.
These two extracts from a conversation between Jonas and the Giver seem to apply to those concerned parents who tried to ban the book:
“Why do you and I have to hold these memories?”
“It gives us wisdom,” The Giver replied.
[…]
“But why can’t everyone have the memories? I think it would seem a little easier if the memories were shared. You and I wouldn’t have to bear so much by ourselves, if everybody took a part.”
The Giver sighed. “You’re right,” he said. But then everyone would be burdened and pained. They don’t want that.”
(The Giver, Lois Lowry, p111 and 112-113, Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2002)
Note that this passage mentions two points: memories give us wisdom, and people do not want to be hurt. Let’s talk about pain first.
Parents worry about all the different ways their children can be hurt in this world, and for good reason, because there are a thousand ways to get hurt, and of course parents, out of love, want their children to be safe. But this is not just utopian (for pain is inevitable), but also deeply ironic, as the novel describes a process that every family goes through. We all ask questions to our parents, grandparents, older siblings, etc… and discover incidents, however big or small, that influenced their lives and that might shock us. Our family members’ memories are usually how we start learning about how scary the world can be.
For example: I heard World War II stories shared again and again during family meals at my grandparents’ when I was a child. That’s when I learned about my grandfather’s stepfather, who was given to the Germans by his own sons for owning a WWI German rifle. That’s also when I learned about sorrow and despair (my great-grandmother never received any news from or about her husband once he was put on a train to whichever camp whence he never returned), but also about love, for she would not have hurt as badly as she did if she had not loved him as much as she did. That is another important lesson from The Giver: there is no high without low. You do not know the true extent of love if you do not experience absence or loss. You cannot truly enjoy down time if you never work.
The other bit that we learned from the quote above is about wisdom. This is mostly why I do not understand people who want to ban The Giver, and why I will always proudly recommend it to my patrons: I want to encourage students’ critical thinking skills, I want them to read what happens to a society which gives up its powers to a small group of individuals without any system of checks and balances, I want them to become responsible citizens of a healthy society, participating in their democracy so that it remains one and not turn into a dystopian one. 
Encouraging children and teens to think for themselves can be worrisome – what if they do not learn what we deem to be the ‘correct’ lesson?! – but that is exactly what’s necessary for them to become mature and sensible adults. Literature is the safest way, as well as the most important way, to allow kids to think things through for themselves. It is the safest because these are works of fiction; if one gets too scared or overwhelmed, it is easy to close the book until one is ready to pick it up again. Parents can also read the book with their children, explaining things when the child has questions. Reading about controversial topics allows the readers to see things from another perspective without putting themselves in danger. Literature is also the most important way to help kids grow up because reading engages one’s mental capacities (understanding, deciphering, critical thinking, etc…), which are extremely valuable in the real world, especially now that information is everywhere.  The end goal of childrearing is to have an adult who is the masteroftheirfate – how will kids become that if they are never allowed to stretch out their wings or their imagination?
About Me:
I am the Library and Media Instructor at NatomasCharterSchool, working mostly with grades 6-12. 
I am always looking into how better serve my patrons, so I love to try new things! I love my OPAC (Yay, FollettDestiny!), Twitter (@NCSLibrarian), YouTube (ElsaPrettol), and I am so thankful that our school has iPads, Chromebooks, Kindles, Nooks and the whole Gmail suite for students and teachers. If you have questions about  any of those technologies, do not hesitate to email me at eouvrardprettol@natomascharter.org 

Sunday Reflections: A Radical Banned Books Week Thought – Throw Out Your Materials Challenge Form and Truly Embrace the Freedom to Read

A funny thing happened on Twitter a couple of weeks ago.

In preparation for Banned Books Week I came up with what I thought was a great idea: We would put challenged books on trial and I tweeted out asking everyone if there were certain books they wanted to write a defense for as guest posts.  You will see those posts during this next week.

But one person replied and said: What if I said we shouldn’t even be arguing the merits of books? What if that’s not the point at all?

And then we talked about it and he was right.

Why do we have material challenge forms and give people the option of trying to say, I don’t like this book or it offended me or whatever so I think you should remove it from the library – all because of me.  Maybe this whole time we have been doing Banned Books Week and Intellectual Freedom wrong.  Throw out your forms!

Read the Freedom to Read Statement from ALA 

Here’s a snippet of the conversation:

If we truly believe that people have the Freedom to Read what they want to read, then the answer isn’t to hand out forms saying well, maybe we’ll remove this book if you can make a good case.  The correct answer when someone complains about a book is simple: I’m sorry that this book offended you, let’s do some awesome reader’s advisory to see if we can help you find some other materials that are right for you.

It’s a radical notion, I know.  I have written the collection development policy at two libraries now and made the actual materials challenge form at one.  It was a masterpiece.  And now I think it was wrong.  Our whole approach is wrong.

I get there are things that offend people, but those things are different for each person.  And when I read the comments, most people say the same things for other types of media: If you don’t like a show, turn the channel.  If you don’t like a song, turn the radio dial.  If you don’t like a movie, don’t go see it.  And the answer for books should be the same: If you don’t like the book, read a different book. 

Banned Books Week is September 22nd through the 28th

There are shows I don’t let my children watch (a lot of them actually.)  Just the other day I told my YouTube cruising Tween that she had to add her former favorite Miley Cyrus onto the list of music videos she wasn’t allowed to watch.  I have a list of actors whose movies I won’t go see.  I have banned Spongebob Squarepants because I don’t like the way they treat one another.  But here’s the thing: those are all personal parenting decisions.  I know that other parents would make different ones.  I don’t get to make those decisions for your kids and you don’t get to make them for mine.  Which is why we shouldn’t even have material challenge forms.  Because it gives the impression that sometimes, maybe, we would in fact let someone make those decisions for an entire community; that if they could make a strong enough case that we might, in fact, decide to remove a book from the library allowing one person (or a group of people) to make personal decisions for an entire community of people, people for whom they don’t actually have the right to make that decision.

There is no “unless you can prove it doesn’t have literary merit” – who gets to decide that? There is no “unless you can prove it is dangerous to society” – we once thought the belief that the sun was the center of the universe was a dangerous idea, people died for that belief.  Oops, turns out we were wrong.  The only exceptions would be if a book had questionable authority (which you should be catching in your collection development process so it shouldn’t be an issue on the reader’s end) or books that do or advocate breaking the law (like books from NAMBLA, they apparently exist).  Tyrants and dictators ban books, those who believe in democracy do not.

So instead, when a patron comes to a staff member complaining about a book and asking that it be removed, we use this moment to remind patrons about the goals of a library.  Instead of handing them a book challenge form, we could hand them a bookmark or pamphlet that states the Library Bill of Rights and affirms their rights to self-selection and parental guidance.  And then we ask them if we can help them find a new book to read and start the reader’s advisory process.  This moment becomes a teachable moment where we reinforce the library’s mission to the entire (and very diverse) community.  Instead of discussing individual titles, the conversation becomes one about Intellectual Freedom.

I believe that people have the right to read what they want to read.  I believe that you and I don’t get to make those decisions for other people.  Full stop.  That’s actually the end of the argument.  Throw out your forms.

More Banned Books Week on TLT:
Banned Books Week 2012
Teen Fiction is . . . 
A Banned Books Week Primer
Redefining the 3 Rs for Banned Books Week
Libraries are radically unsafe places . . . and that’s a good thing
My Banned Books Week Posters

Edited 9/24/2013 to add a clarifying paragraph.

Ten Novels that Changed My Life Before I Could Drive by Sean Beaudoin (a guest post)

Karen’s Introduction

Oh look, here is Karen meeting Sean Beaudoin
Later in September, Banned Books Week happens.  Banned Books Week is basically a promotional event to remind us that the freedom to read what we decide to read for ourselves in an important and precious right; a right worthy of being defended.  Just last night I sat at a YA author panel where a mother in the audience asked: “But what about the sex?”  And even the panel moderator asked, “Since you write for teens, what is your responsibility to your audience and what do you feel you need to teach teens with your books?”  The thing is, everyone approaches a book differently and takes different things away from it.  When I read It by Stephen King (in the 6th grade by the way), I took it as a powerful reminder of the bonds that people could have and the type of friendships that I wanted to build.  When a friend recently suggested that she didn’t want her teen to read the book because of a gang bang scene, I was stunned:  “What scene are you talking about?”, I asked. I have read It 3 times since the 6th grade and the things that stand out to me are not the things that stand out to my friend.  I would have to read it again to figure out what she was objecting to.
And when we ask, “Do teens even get John Green?” or “Isn’t this book too dark/deep/depressing for teens?”, we underestimate teens and their ability to think, their ability to self select and process what they read.  Sometimes we get unexpected things from the books that we encounter – and that is a good thing.  Below is a list of 10 books that author Sean Beaudoin read in his teens and a powerful reminder that we should give teens more credit then we often do.  You never know what books will have an impact.

Ten Novels that Changed My Life Before I Could Drive
by Sean Beaudoin

1. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut — the greatest YA writer of them all, neck deep in irony and pathos.

2. The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll — So honest I could practically smell the Bronx.
3. The World According to Garp by John Irving — I mainly flipped through for the sex parts, but also remember being pleasantly confounded by The Pension Grillparzer, which is tucked neatly inside.
4. Dune by Frank Herbert — an entire empire, an economic and political system, a messiah, a dozen planets, and a single boy. The depth of this blew me away. I read it at least four times.
5. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand — I briefly fell under the thrall of the ludicrously cartoonish message this book attempted to spackle into the holes of my young ego–namely that nothing but my individual desires mattered. Also, I bought it because the Rush album “2112” is dedicated to the author. Another reason why Neil Pert should play half as many notes per measure.
 
6. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews — this grim cultural artifact somehow stays with me after all these years.
7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess — this brilliant meditation on violence and behavioral modification is written in its own barely-comprehensible argot. Until you begin to comprehend it. I felt like a genius as I re-read certain passages and began to unlock the poetry.
8. The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac — far more than On The Road, this slim volume made me postive that I could one day be a writer. And how unbearably cool it would be to be one.
9. Neuromancer by William Gibson — a book that foresaw the Internet a full ten years before the Internet, the mix of Asian-inflected sci fi, tech commerce, and Blade Runner-style apocalyptic doom was startlingly original and well written.
10. Great Jones Street by Don Delillo — hilarious, demented, hip, and oh-so downtown, still one of the great rock novels of all time.
About Sean Beaudoin:
Sean Beaudoin is the author of several books for Teens (and really anyone who likes to read cool books).  These are the books. 

Wise Young Fool was just released.  Here is the book trailer.  Oh look, here is my review.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X23sWj8d4dI]

He also writes cool online things that I think everyone should be reading, like this letter to graduates, these thoughts about self promotion, and this discussion of a fab art project he did with his daughter.  He writes over at The WeeklingsVisit his webpage and follow him on Twitter, but only if you want to read hip, cool, thoughtful commentary and are not opposed to the occassional moments of self promotion.