Banned Books Week Guest Blog: “There is hope!”

Many thanks to author Jöelle Anthony for guest-blogging today about the issues of censorship & banning books.

Many years ago, I happened to be on vacation in Long Beach, Washington during Banned Book Week and an indie bookstore was giving out buttons that said, “I read banned books.” I’ve had my button on my backpack ever since.

When I lived in the American South, the button would often raise eyebrows and start discussions. Frankly, I was always a little careful because while I believe that Harry Potter is not going to corrupt a Christian child, plenty of people do believe that, and I didn’t want to get in an argument in a public place.

What I find both terrifying and also redeeming about book banning is no matter how diligent the banners are, they’re missing loads of books. You only hear about the ones that get media attention – the Judy Blume books, or more recently Ellen Hopkins’ books, but the good news is that right under the book banners’ turned up noses, kids are reading a great many novels which would make them lose their lunch in fury.

First of all, there’s the sheer number of books being published. No one can read all of them, so while everyone’s burning broomsticks and marching in front of the library, kids are quietly checking out books no one’s even noticed that also cover witchcraft, homosexuality, sexual relations, swearing, and books which question religion. And it’s not only happening in the big city libraries. In fact, you might be surprised to hear that sometimes small, rural libraries have a better selection of new (and potentially controversial) books than their big city counterparts.

How can this be? Many small libraries subscribe to what is referred to as a book service. They don’t have the staff, or the money to buy books, so instead they lease them. Every three months or so, they receive a new batch of the latest and greatest recently released books, and they send back the ones they’ve had for a while. It keeps their small stock fresh and up to date and the books rotate through smaller library systems, giving them books which are in demand, but they’d never be able to purchase.

There is a down side to this service, the most obvious one being that the service itself is choosing which books to include in its rotations, and that isn’t necessarily good for authors, publishers or readers, but that’s another post. The up side is that these small rural libraries are getting all kinds of exciting books that perhaps a more conservative librarian who had time to read the actual books before choosing them would never bring into the library. Also, because the books come and go rather quickly, they appear to be read by kids but get missed by the banners.

So while I do believe it’s important for us all to wear our “I read banned book” buttons proudly, imperative we speak up and say what we think in a non-confrontational manner, and to continue to read and buy banned books if they interest us, I also believe all is not lost. There is hope simply in the sheer number of books publishing continues to provide for their readers, and the long tradition of teens everywhere reading under the covers with a flashlight.

5 thoughts on “Banned Books Week Guest Blog: “There is hope!”

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  1. I don’t normally comment on your site, although I do read every post via my e-mail. I love your site!! I just wanted to say that I totally agree with your post!!! I happen to be very lucky with my library. I live in Quispamsis NB Canada, thats like saying I live in the middle of nowhere. 🙂 But I have an AMAZING library! People are always donating books and if there is a book you really want to read but the library doesn’t have it, they will get it for you from another library system. I’ve read books from the Maine library system. But the biggest reason my library rocks is the librarians are AWESOME!! We have some that don’t agree with Ellen Hopkins books and wouldn’t recommened them, however they would never tell someone checking them out that they shouldn’t read them. They all believe in free press and that people should have the right to chose what the read. These women are truly awesome. So much so that I know volunteer at the library just so I can talk their ears off and listen to their wonderful insights. I don’t believe in banning books but I see why some people would. I’m just grateful for librarinas who let people chose for themselves!

    1. I live in a country town in Victoria Australia and have the good fortune of having access to a fantastic library where staff are more than helpful . If the library doesn’t have a book in the system you can put a request for the library to purchase it – so far at least 5 books I have requested have been requisitioned which is fantastic. I’m not sure what the situation in Australia is in regards to banned books – but I’ve just searched it on the web and couldn’t believe that Twilight has actually been banned from some schools due to the sexual content – I have attached the article posted (Nov 09) & taken out the names (schools & people):
      “Schools ban racy Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer.
      Primary school students have been banned from reading the teen cult classic Twilight books because they are too racy and contradict religious beliefs.
      Librarians have stripped the books from shelves in some junior schools because they believe the content is too sexual and goes against religious beliefs.
      They even have asked parents not to let kids bring their own copies of Stephenie Meyer’s smash hit novels (which explore the stormy love affair between a teenage girl and a vampire) to school.
      XXX College at XXX was so concerned about the Twilight craze that teachers ran a seminar for Year 6 students to discuss sexual and supernatural themes in the books.
      The school’s head librarian XXX said: “We don’t have a policy of censorship but the issues in the Twilight series are quite different from the Harry Potter classics.
      “It is not available in our junior library for these reasons.”
      She said that younger kids read the book, which have been turned in a smash hit movie, so they could “talk the talk and are part of the cool crowd”.
      But teachers addressed the primary students because they were concerned they might be too young to deal with the adult themes.
      “There was a great level of concern from the teachers and we anticipated there would be concern from the parents,” Ms XXX said.
      “We wanted to make sure they realise it’s fictitious and ensure they don’t have a wrong grasp on reality.”
      The four Twilight books trace the love affair between Bella Swan, who moves to a new school, and Edward Cullen, a mysterious heartthrob who belongs to a family of vampires.
      The line between real life and fiction has been further blurred by constant speculation that on-screen stars Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart are off-screen lovers.
      XXX Education Office spokesman Mr XXX said individual schools had to decide whether the books were suitable.
      “It comes down to the discretion of the school to keep an eye on what the kids read,” Mr XXXx said. “Some primary students are not ready to read Twilight. That said, some secondary students may not be either.”
      XXXX School for Girls head librarian XXX said only senior school students were allowed to borrow the books from the library.
      “There isn’t a lot written for the Year 4 to 5 age group so they are quickly pushed into higher reading age groups. There is a mismatch between their level of maturity and their level of reading,” she said.
      XXX primary school in XXX has asked parents not to let their children bring the book to school.
      Student XXX, 10, from XXX, has read three quarters of the first Twilight book.
      “I know it’s all just fantasy. I think it’s really good, really interesting and bits of it are really funny,” she said. ”

      I understand they’re protective nature, duty of care, but these books are readily available at all stores, and I think the more we (as adults) make a big deal about books like this children will think “what am I missing out on?”

  2. I’m a 14 year old girl, and even I, to what most people would call just a “little girl” or even a mindless teenager have a huge problem with books being banned. Everyone is entitled to say what they want,everyone can do what they want as long as it’s inside the law. Ignore the fact that I’m basically just a kid, what about the fact that I have a voice?! Since when was it ok to rip a book from my hands and say. “No, no, this is bad. You shouldn’t read this, it’ll poison your mind.” But why? Why is it poisoning my mind and first off, why do you care. Aren’t people supposed to accept you no matter what? If you don’t want a kid that’s 9 years old reading a book then give the school a note saying you don’t want your kid to read this. If the class is learning some have the parent excuse them from that book! You don’t need to basically stomp your foot like a 6 year old kid and pout and say “Well fine! I don’t like it so you can’t read it!” No one is making you read the books! I like Harry Potter, I like How to Eat Fried Worms, I love everything by Stephen King! I don’t care what they say, because guess what? For those of you who haven’t had your wake up call yet, now is the time. You can shelter your kid, you can force feed them religion, stuff nonsense down their throat, ban all the books you want, you could even lock them in their room! The one thing you can’t do is tell them who to be or what to believe in. Believe me my mom tried and is failing horribly at it, you can do everything to them but guess what. They will still grow up to believe in what they want to believe. If you’re going to ban books, why haven’t you banned porn, or movies, or the internet? Are they of practical use to you? I could care less about what the statistics are but I’m pretty sure, America would revolt if the internet got shut down. Oh wait, wouldn’t that be a good thing though since it’s a lot easier to just get online and look up what anything? It’s not that hard, I know 6 year olds who can do it. To all you people who want to ban the books, you’re not just going up against me, but all the Twilight lovers, Harry Potter lovers, Shakespeare lovers, the Stephen King lovers, the people who love fairy tales and mythology, the Goosebumps fanatics, and the whatever else everyone loves. Total that up and you have a hot mess my friends and now, you have not started a battle, not just a war, but a Civil War. And you. Will. Lose.

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