Last week was the American Library Association’s banned book week. Banned and challenged books are some of my favourites since it’s always interesting to see what has been challenged and why. and, since the the Canadian equivalent, Freedom to Read Week, won’t come around again until February may of us at Windsor Public Library took this as an excuse to read some wonderful banned and challenged books.
Here are some of the Banned Books WPL staff were reading:
Having recently read Hill’s new book, the Illegal, I felt the need to revisit an old favourite. The book humanizes slavery by telling the fictional life story of a woman named Aminata, abducted and sold into slavery at the age of 11. Starting off free and spending her whole life suffering unbelievable indignity and hardship that comes with such an inhumane practice. The book was challenged based on the title even though the name comes from a real historical document. Don’t be scare off by the title, this is a wonderful and heartbreaking book that tells a remarkable story of suffering and survival.
A nexus of personal, political and world history, Persepolis is the story of a young woman growing up during the Iranian Islamic Revolution. Young Marjane’s coming of age unfolds in a world riddled with war, where her ambitious and edgy nature comes into conflict with the oppressive government regime surrounding her. When life in Iran becomes too dangerous for the young girl her family sends her away to study in Vienna. Immersed a shockingly different environment, Marjane must make sense of these two conflicting worlds, while learning what it takes to stay true to her self and her Iranian heritage. Tragic, funny and poignant, this story reflects a struggle to exist in a world ravaged by war and conflict and what it takes to move forward. Persepolis was also adapted into a feature-length animated movie, which was awarded the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize.
The “Absolutely True Diary” is one of the most frequently challenged YA books. It is told from the perspective of the 14-year old narrator, Arnold Spirit Jr., who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA, and interestingly enough, is based on the personal experiences of the author. In addition to dealing with your typical teenage drama, Junior is also forced to come to terms with a series of deaths of people close to him, a fallout with his best friend, being surrounded by poverty and alcoholism, and being cast-off by his community for wanting more out of life. Is this book a little graphic and explicit? Sure. In fact, it’s actually laced with profanity, sexual references, and abuse . Why should we keep fight to keep it on the shelves? Because none of these elements of the story are glamorized – they actually make you pretty sad. Why is this a good choice for mature teens? Because in spite of receiving numerous rough blows (literally and figuratively), Arnold, our protagonist, never gives up hope. This is a lesson worth learning.
And Tango Makes Three is a children’s picture book that tells the story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo. Silo and Roy aren’t like the other penguins who find a girl penguin to make a nest and raise a family together. Instead, they spend all their time with each other. They sing to each other, swim and eat together and eventually get a chance to start a family together.
My personal favourite review came from Rob. Now, he didn’t technically read this book but what a cool piece to end with as he emphasizes the importance of information literacy and libraries and how important it is to consider whether a banned book is worth keeping on merit.
Rob: The Dictionary
Yes, even the dictionary has been challenged. Why? It contains bad words. For the full story, check it out here via the American Library Association. I sympathize with the idea of trying to keep naughty words from kids, and understand censorship is a multifaceted issue. While I am having a bit of fun here, it is important to understand that people aren’t necessarily causing harm when they are discussing banning books. I would certainly agree that materials for kids probably should not have curse words for example. However ultimately I believe that it comes down to choices. If someone wants to know something, your library will always encourage using the best possible source.
Providing great resources for research is part of what libraries do. We are experts in information literacy, and try to help others improve their own skills in that regard. That is why when people come with research questions, we suggest using the best source. You will be much better off using the best resources to answer your question. For example, I will often suggest people use appropriate databases like the Learning Express Library or Canadian Reference Center (both available here) rather than an unknown webpage. We always want you to have the best information, and if you are wondering about a word I would strongly recommend you use a source you can trust.
While I believe that the people who objected to the dictionary had their hearts in the right place (concern for children,) I do think they failed to consider alternatives. I would argue to anyone that it’s better for everyone (kids included) to look words up in the dictionary, even if they are somewhat naughty. After all, it’s probably a much safer alternative than what you’d get from an uneducated internet search.