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A Word of Difference

Banned Books Week 2015If you're just joining us, we're in the middle of Banned Books Week 2015, the week that librarians and booksellers set aside every year to promote the benefits of free and open access to information and underscore the dangers of censorship.  Banned Books Week honors a right we never, ever want to lose-- our Constitutionally guaranteed freedom to read.  This year, Banned Books Week is focusing on one of the most-frequently challenged categories of literature: young adult books.

It's not surprising that young adult books are so often on censors' hit lists.  Young adults are on the cusp of maturity and most of them are considering life's big issues-- love, sex, death, careers, social justice-- for the first time.  They're trying to figure out how the world works (and when it doesn't), and what their role is going to be in it.  They're struggling to understand how they might respond to life's more difficult questions.  And yet, though we call them "young adults," most teens are still legally minors.  As much as it might chafe, their parents and guardians still have final say over their reading choices.

Those reading choices can be quite troubling to parents.  Many teens look to books as a safe venue for explore some of their generation's darker issues.  What was it like to grow up in Iran during the revolution? (Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.)  What problems do gay teens face today? (David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing.)  Can a former bully ever truly break the cycle of hate and make amends for past cruelties?  (Courtney Summers' Some Girls Are.)  How do you come to grips with your heritage when you're the only person like you in your entire school? (Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.)  Through fiction, teens can look at the world through another person's eyes, and make up their own minds about how they might respond in a similar situation.

Censorship often stems from a very good instinct: the instinct to protect the people we care about, most especially our kids.  Many of us would willingly risk our lives to shield children from dangers that threaten their welfare.  But when the danger comes from a book-- from an idea-- matters get a little more complicated.  We don't want our kids ever to face the problems they read about in fiction... but can we really protect them from thinking about the world around them?  Should we?  Our country was built on what many considered to be dangerous ideas, but we tend not to agree on what's "dangerous."  A title that you deem unsuitable for your child may be perfectly acceptable, even necessary, to another family's teen.  The First Amendment makes room for both opinions.

If you really have a problem with a book, read it and then talk about it.  Tell everyone you know why you hate it.  Have a frank and meaningful discussion with your kids about why you don't want them reading it-- and maybe talk to them about why they do want to read it.  That's your right as a citizen and a parent.  Censorship is not.  By removing a title from a library or a reading list, you're not just voicing your opinion; you're removing the opportunity for others to make up their own minds about it.  

Dav Pilkey, author of the infamous Captain Underpants series for children, says the difference between censorship and responsible parenting comes down to one word. "Instead of saying ‘I don’t think children should read this book,’ just add a single word: ‘I don’t think my children should read this book.’… When it comes to books, we may not all agree on what makes for a good read — but I hope we can agree that letting children choose their own books is crucial to helping them learn to love reading… While changing ourselves we can still allow everyone the freedoms they deserve."

It's up to you what you and your family reads, or doesn't read.  What's important is that you (and your kids) have that choice.

If you'd like to know more about Banned Books Week, the library has a display up this week in the lobby and on the display rack across from the adult reference desk.  I've also listed a few related websites below.  I invite you to join in our celebration; come check out a banned or challenged book this week and read with your teen.

Banned Books Week:
http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/
Illinois Library Association: Books Challenged and/or Banned in 2014-2015:
http://www.ila.org/initiatives/banned-books-week/books-challenged-or-banned-in-2014-2015
ALA: Frequently Challenged Books:
http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's Banned Books Week 101:
http://cbldf.org/resources/banned-books-week-101/
The National Coalition Against Censorship:
http://www.ncac.org/index.php
National Council of Teachers of English: Students' Right to Read
http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/righttoreadguideline

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