Freedom to read

I first learned about Banned Books Week because of a TV show. One of my favorite shows at the time was "The Famous Jett Jackson" on the Disney Channel.

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Kathryn A. Martin Library Director Matt Rosendahl points out his favorite graphic novel that was nearly banned by a Missouri public library. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)

I first learned about Banned Books Week because of a TV show. One of my favorite shows at the time was "The Famous Jett Jackson" on the Disney Channel.

In one episode called "Saving Mr. Dupree," a high school teacher is arrested for teaching Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" to introduce a discussion about banning books. The book was banned because the mayor thought the book promoted the challenging of authority, ironically by city ordinance #451. The episode then follows Jett Jackson as he tries to decide whether to "do the right thing" and join his friends who are protesting the teacher's imprisonment and the book ban.

I remember watching this episode with my mother and asking her why anyone would want to ban a book. I was about 10 years old at the time and absolutely loved books. I spent most of my free time reading or at the library picking out new books to read. I couldn't understand the concept of stopping people from reading.

My mother did what she always did when I had difficulty understanding the world: She took me to the Gilbert Public Library to learn more. It was Banned Books Week and there was a large display of books that had been banned at one time or another. Each book had a sticker explaining why the book had been banned and why it was important. I remember seeing titles such as "1984," "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and - the most shocking to 10-year-old me - "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

"But Harry is a good wizard. Why is his story there?" I remember asking my favorite librarian.


"Well, I suppose some people don't like the witchcraft and magic in the books. It might be against their religion," she replied.

"So just because they don't like it, they want to ban it for everyone? How's that fair?" I asked indignantly.

Despite learning about book banning through a TV show, I've always thought of it as something that happened in the past.

So I was surprised to learn that there were 307 challenges to books in 2013 as reported by the American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom. A challenge isn't the same as a ban. According to the ALA, a challenge is "an attempt to remove or restrict materials" whereas a ban is "the removal of those materials."

While 2013's number of challenges is the lowest the ALA has reported in over a decade, it's still a significant amount.

Every year the ALA releases a list of top 10 most-challenged books during Banned Books week. What surprised me about this year's list is that I have read five of those books: "Captain Underpants," "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," "The Hunger Games," "Looking for Alaska" and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." I didn't seek these books out in order to read them in defiance. I just read them because I'd heard they were good.

Learning that I had read so many pushed me further to find the ALA's top 100 list of Banned/Challenged books from 2000 to 2009. I found that I've read 23 books on that list. These are the years of my adolescence. Many of these books have taught me valuable lessons.

"Junie B. Jones" was my first chapter book.


Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's "Alice" series taught me something new every year I read them. As I grew up, so did Alice.

Lauren Myracle's instant messenger based books "TTYL" and "TTFN" taught me crazy Internet abbreviation and the value of friendship. I couldn't believe it was possible to write entire books in IM format, but I read through them quickly and loved every second.

I read "The Chocolate War" around the same time I had to sell chocolate bars for orchestra. (Thankfully, I was never bullied into it.)

John Green's "Looking for Alaska" helped me cope with the loss of my grandmother. Though the characters in the book don't deal with the same sort of loss, the concept of letting go of loved ones spoke to me.

I don't think I would be the same person I am today if I didn't have access to those 23 books.

I know most of the time, book challenges are presented from a place of concern and with the best intentions. Yet these challenges are still a form of censorship.

Luckily, the ALA agrees and condemns book banning and due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

So, go out and exercise your freedom to read a "banned book" this week.


Starting Banned Books Week with a ‘pow!’

University of Minnesota Duluth started off Banned Books Week with a pow! and bam!
Banned Books Week, Sept. 21-27, reminds Americans about the importance of preventing censorship and ensuring everyone’s freedom to read any book they choose.
The Kathryn A. Martin library focused on banned graphic novels and comic books with a display on Monday, Sept. 22.
“As a librarian, one of our core principles is to defend the right to read. Everyone’s right to read. We’re here all year long making all sorts of materials available and once a year we get to remember why we do it,” said library director Matt Rosendahl. “This year, nationwide libraries are using graphic novels and comic books as the theme to explore banned books. And I happen to love comic books and graphic novels too.”
Rosendahl’s favorite graphic novel is the challenged “Blankets,” a coming-of-age story by Craig Thompson. According to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the book was challenged in 2006 when a resident of Marshall, Miss. requested that the novel be removed from the public library’s shelves due to its allegedly obscene illustrations.
“Because it is a teenage romance, there are some parts that are a little less PG,” Rosendahl said. “But it’s such a beautiful and poignant book that sticks with you for a long time. I’m glad they weren’t able to fully ban it.”
Students at UMD were encouraged to look over challenged and banned graphic novels and comic books and learn more about why books are challenged. Students could also make their own superhero mask.
Freshman Claire Weyrauch, who came to the event to make a superhero mask and look at other graphic novels, said she knows the importance of book banning awareness. Weyrauch’s favorite novel, “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell, was nearly banned by her school district in Anoka earlier this spring.
“The parents of a girl from another high school probably skimmed through a couple of pages in the book and found the page where the two main characters talk about sex and thought that it was horrible. They tried to ban it for that reason and also for the language,” Weyrauch said. “But this didn’t make a lot of sense to me because while they talk about it, the characters talk about sex but decide not to do it. And the language is just to show emphasis on high school. That’s real high school life. People swear.”
Weyrauch and other students in the district wrote letters to the school board asking them to not ban the book. The Anoka High principal convened a committee of parents, staff and a student to review the book. The committee ultimately determined that it was appropriate for high schoolers.
“Thank goodness,” Weyrauch said.

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