©American Library Association, Banned Books Week 2010
This week is Banned Books Week in the US, and a great opportunity to learn more about (not to mention contribute to) the ongoing battle against censorship that readers, librarians, educators and authors across the continent and around the world are engaged in every day. Since last Saturday (September 25th), and ongoing until this coming Saturday (October 2), members of the American Libraries Association (ALA), libraries (and the people who love them), book sellers, book clubs and other fans of intellectual freedom play host to a variety of activities, including read-outs, displays, and even a few events in Second Life. Just like Freedom to Read Week (the Canadian equivalent), one of the primary aims is to raise awareness about the surprising pervasiveness, arbitrariness and absurdity of censorship and book banning campaigns, and to spur a broader debate and discussion about the implications for both individual rights and for the democratic health of our culture(s) as a whole. Since children and youth are so often the ones who pay the price, this issue and event is of particular relevance to young people, child/youth advocates, librarians, educators and parents.
This year, much of the coverage and discourse around Banned Books Week has focused on a recent spurt of book bannings down in Missouri, and the related controversy around an associate prof who dismissed three popular YA novels that deal (apparently quite sensitively) with themes of sexuality as "filthy" and "soft-core porn." The Office of Intellectual Freedom of the ALA was quick to rally support for the targeted authors, a number of whom spoke out quite forcefully against the ban and the larger implications for youth in that area.
Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, wrote an opinion piece, blogged a response and call for action for fans of the book, in the form of letter writing campaigns and other activities aimed at both protesting the ban AND countering the misrepresentation of the book by the associate prof., the school board and the media. The book has also inspired a Twitter campaign, #SpeakLoudly, which has evolved into a broader discussion about banned books, book banning, intellectual freedom and social justice.
Similarly, Sarah Ocker, whose book Twenty Boy Summer was also singled out for criticism and banning, responded in a number of formats, including a blog post, published opinion piece, as well as a Youtube video. I love, love, love that these authors are not only addressing heavy issues in their books, but also fighting back and taking a very vocal and well articulated stand against the book banners. It's not often the most popular thing to do, and it's never easy, and kudos to them for taking the ban so seriously.
Another key text/target being discussed this year is Sherman Alexie's highly acclaimed, award-winning YA book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has also been banned by school boards in Missouri and Oregon, among others. And, refreshingly, a number of media outlets have also given special attention to the large number of banned graphic novels, such as Bone, which I wrote about briefly last spring.
For more info, updates, or to find events in your area, you can check out the Banned Books Week website, follow the #bannedbooksweek Twitter stream, check out the OIF's machinima contest, or simply make an effort to pick up and read a book on the banned/challenged list (for instance, one of the books listed on the ALA's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009). Or you can pass these books along to others, as this awesome teen started doing last year, or through the Freedom to Read Week/BookCrossings "Free a Challenged Book" initiative.
Just a little reminder that Canada has its own sorted history of book banning, as well as our very own Freedom to Read Week, which takes place every February. Which means that we all have two excellent opportunities a year to take part in the movement.