Do you see any common themes amongst all these books?
These are just some of the books that have been challenged, banned and removed from school libraries in the USA, just this year. The freedom to read what you want to read is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy. However, just as democracy itself is under siege around the world, the freedom to read cannot be taken for granted. Anti-democratic forces are always at work to undermine your freedom to read and other democratic rights. You must stand up for those rights.
People need to read books for book banning to even be a thing. This idea has been expressed in many different ways.
So Read. Keep reading. Read some more. Read what you want to read. Read what you decide to read.
Read for information. Read to learn. Read for fun. Read to escape. Read for entertainment. Read to experience the world from the point of view of different people. Read to cry. Read to be scared. Read to laugh.
Read to understand. Read to learn new things. Read to learn more about things you already know.
Read to learn the point of view of people that you might disagree with, even when you are certain that you will disagree with them. Read to consider new information, new evidence, new perspectives. Read critically, even skeptically, but read with an openness to change your mind when faced with rational and logical reasons to do so.
Read for whatever reason you decide. Stand up for your freedom to decide for yourself what you want to read.
That doesn’t mean you should read anything and everything. People that care about you might know why reading some things, at certain times, might not be so good for you. You might decide not read some books because of your age, maturity, or history. Some books might not be right for you because of your current mental or emotional health. Perhaps some material has nothing to offer you of any value. But that is for you to decide in cooperation with the people that you trust. That is not for other people, other groups, organizations or governments to decide for you.
People try to ban books because they don’t want you to read those books. If you don’t read books to begin with, you are doing their work for them.
It can be tempting to think of the banning of books as something that happened in the past, only by extremely conservative types, or in authoritarian regimes. Sadly, book banning is alive and well here and now. Sure, it is not shocking that anti-democratic governments in places like China, Russia, Iran, Hungary or Venezuela strictly control the flow of information and literature. Yet in our society, where we make claims on being champions of democracy and freedom, book banning is on the rise.
Kara Yorio writes in School Library Journal: “It has been a busy Banned Books Week, as the stepped-up challenges to books and their authors continue, with books by kid lit creators Jerry Craft and Kelly Yang added to the list of titles some parents claim are objectionable.” Read the rest of this article.
Meanwhile “Ruby Bridges Goes to School” has been targeted by book banners as well. Author Ruby Bridges recounts the true story of her experiences as a 6 year old girl who became the first black student to attend a formerly whites only public school. An organized group of parents wanted their local school board to ban this book, “for supposedly “explicit and implicit anti-American, anti-white” bias (source).” Read more in this Miami Herald article.
Here are four of the most challenged books from the last year, all available in our school library:
George by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism and because it was thought to promote antipolice views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and it included rape and profanity.
September 26 to October 2 is Banned Books Week. Established in 1982 and currently sponsored by the Banned Books Week Coalition, which is, in their words:
…an international alliance of diverse organizations joined by a commitment to increase awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read. The Coalition seeks to engage various communities and inspire participation in Banned Books Week through education, advocacy, and the creation of programming about the problem of book censorship.
Come down to the School Library to see our display of “Banned Books” and books about censorship, your rights and freedoms, and all the issues surrounding the banning of books.
Born on this day in 1925, Malcolm Little grew up in poverty and lived a life of crime. While in prison he worked to self-educate and converted to Islam, Publicly he became known as Malcolm X, dropping what he referred to as his “slave name.” Intelligent, articulate and charismatic, Malcolm X would become one of the leading figures of the fight for equality for African-Americans. In contrast to Martin Luther King who called for non-violent protest, Malcolm X believed that violence would be necessary for black people to gain their rights. Early on he was considered to be a black-supremacist who believed that blacks and whites could never live together. However, he would eventually disavow that position, and would preach the equality of all people and express a hope for peaceful coexistence. In the years prior to his death, he began to reach out with a willingness to work with other Civil Rights groups and leaders. In particular it was after the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca required of all Muslims, where he experienced the coming together of people of all races and backgrounds, that he embraced the possibility of peaceful change rather than inevitable violence. Tragically, he wouldn’t live long in pursuit of those dreams. He was assassinated in 1965 by members of the group he formerly led, the Nation of Islam.
The rights and freedoms of Canadians include the right to read what you want to read. Such rights and freedoms are fundamental to democracy. Yet there are forces at work in our society that seek power by attaching your rights, including attempts to censor or limit your freedom to read.
Authoritarian forces and totalitarian states know that uneducated and illiterate citizens are easier to control and oppress. Such forces can only celebrate that the work is much simpler when significant portions of the population choose not to read. Censorship becomes less pressing when “aliteracy” becomes prevalent.
A true democracy guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms to its citizens. But to work effectively, indeed, to survive, democracy requires that citizens exercise those rights. In particular, democracy breaks down if citizens aren’t educated, informed and active.
The rise of powerful new information technology in the last few decades has made it more important than ever that citizens are highly “information literate.” Citizens must not only have access to information, they must have the tools required to wade through increasingly destructive levels of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and outright lies. Citizens need to have access to information that is credible, accurate and trustworthy.
The rise of anti-intellectualism and anti-science movements, perhaps most recently represented by anti-vax conspiracies, are part of the wider breakdown of democratic institutions. There is little doubt that attacks on public education over many years have reaped some these results and are integral to the rise of authoritarianism.
It is not enough to celebrate the Freedom to Read. As citizens of democratic societies, we have an obligation to exercise our Freedom to Read, in part so that we are equipped to defend our democratic rights and freedoms.
It is clear that democracy is under attack, throughout the world, and in our back yard. We must act.
Note* The above quote, or variations on it, are often popularly attributed to Mark Twain. However the original source of this quote, or its variations, remains unclear.
Freedom to Read Week celebrates your freedom to read what you choose to read.
These books have all been challenged.
A challenge means that at some point in Canada, someone or some group has said that you shouldn’t be reading these books in school, or borrowing them from libraries, or in some cases, even buying them from stores.
Freedom to Read Week is a chance to celebrate your freedom to read what you choose to read. It is also a time to reflect on the ongoing battle to protect that freedom. What better way to celebrate Freedom to Read Week, and to exercise your rights and freedoms, than to read a book– maybe even one of these.
Find out more about books that have been challenged in Canada:
February 21 to 27 is Freedom to Read Week in Canada in 2021. Come down to the School Library to find out more. We have a display of books and other resources related to our freedom to read, our right to have access to information, and our responsibility to exercise those rights and freedoms as informed, free-thinking citizens.
Along with our in person display of books, magazines, audiobooks, playaways and more, we will will also feature online resources, such as ebooks, digital audiobooks, online databases, and more, so be sure to check out our site, tweedsmuirlibrary.ca.