I’m a reader. Since before I learned to decipher the symbols that created letters and words, I’ve been fascinated with books and stories. I had the influence of older siblings and parents I saw reading all the time. Since my father was in graduate school when I was in preschool, I even have a book I scribbled in with yellow crayon because “Daddy writes in his books!” And, because I have siblings who are much older (11 years), I learned in second grade that I didn’t have to read a book that did not interest me. What I read was my choice. I learned early that I had the freedom to read.
This week, though, is the perfect time to choose the freedom to read books others try to tell us we cannot read. This week is about bringing notice to censorship. During Banned Books Week, librarians, writers, readers, and other advocates for literacy shine the spotlight on books that have been either challenged or actually banned.
What’s the difference? Challenged books are those that people out there are trying to get removed from use in schools or from library shelves. Banned books are those have already been removed. You can learn more about each type of book and those on the challenged books list by going to the Banned Books Week site. The American Library Association tracks challenges and creates lists. For example, in April 2013 Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series made the top of the list. The reason? Offensive language and unsuited for age group. Anyone who knows kids—especially boys—knows these are wildly funny and tremendously popular books. Pilkey has nailed what boys this age find funny (well he should, he once was that age). More importantly, he gets them to read! We need our children to enjoy reading so they will grow up to be readers and thinkers! To see other books on the list, click here. (http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/about)
Just a few weeks ago, one of the writers in my Creative Writing workshop approached me after class. He was concerned that I might censor his manuscript due to offensive language and sexual content. I’m always torn in these situations. As a writer I refuse to censor anyone. As the instructor I do need to take the sensibilities and comfort of the other students into consideration. (Before you argue about “comfort,” keep in mind this a lifelong learning program with some people at the beginning stages of their writing development so creating a safe and comfortable environment for sharing to learn from each other’s works is vital.) I generally leave it to the group (since group dynamics change each time the course is offered). I’ve only had one instance where someone in the group made the choice not to listen to/read the manuscript. And that is each participant’s choice, just as it is the choice of each reader as to what he or she will or will not read.
So, take a stand this week. Voice our fREADom to read. By the way, check out the lists of banned books here. Bet you’ve read one (or more)!