Celebrate the Freedom to Read During Banned Books Week

This week kicks off the ALA's Banned Books Week, which celebrates "our First Amendment freedom to read while drawing attention to the harms that censorship does to our society and our individual freedoms" says Molly Raphael from The Huffington Post. Did you know The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins made the list of challenged books for 2010-2011 according to the American Library Association (ALA)?

It's ironic, isn't it? Censorship and suppressing information is very President Snow-like. Do we want to live in Katniss's world? In Panem, where the government decides what we can read, what we can learn, and who we are allowed to communicate with?

One would think in the year 2011 that censorship would not be an issue, but it is. Attempts to suppress literature and other materials is actually more prevalent than you might think.  The ALA reported that there were 348 challenges to books last year alone. The majority of the challenges are initiated by a parent, directed toward a school and/or school library, and are instigated because of the objection of sexually-explicit material in the book (this refers to books that are labeled as age-appropriate, NOT books that are clearly not appropriate for the age group). For example, The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank is one that was challenged for sexual explicitness and deemed inappropriate for 8th graders in Culpepper, Virginia in January, 2010.

Let's compare reading a book in school to a doctor giving a vaccination shot, which are known to prevent illnesses and disease. Many parents object to giving their children vaccinations. They have that right to make that decision for their own child. But it would be absurd to stop offering vaccinations to everyone because one or more people objected. The benefits are far too great, right? So are the benefits of reading a novel: One book can open up a world of possibilities. One book can help someone cope with their own pain and loss. One book can prevent someone from harming another, or themselves. One book can convince someone that it's OK to be different. One book can inspire. One book can change someone's life. And, chances are, it's a book that someone else wants to prevent you from reading.

In my experience, many people who object to the content have not actually read the book in its entirety. Too often, parts of a novel are extracted and used as evidence of inappropriateness. An entire piece of literature cannot be judged by one passage or quote; the themes and purpose of the novel need to be considered before judging. So to grasp the full meaning, one must read the entire work. In fact, most of the books that are challenged are against the very thing they are accused of promoting. You can read more in my previous blog post about those who challenge The Hunger Games.

This does not mean that I don't believe parents have a right to decide what is appropriate for their child. I believe they do. However, they do not have a right to impose that belief on all children, or all people, for that matter. At our school, if a parent objects to a novel we are teaching, the student is given an alternative substitution that deals with similar themes. The book is not removed from the classroom or from the curriculum.

What is your school's policy? Has The Hunger Games been challenged by any parents? How have you responded? Do you fear it could be challenged? If so, make sure to read my previous post and feel free to contact me if you need additional support.

you can print & distribute. :) Enjoy!

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