Read a Banned Book This Week
This week is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. There is Canadian version called Freedom to Read Week each February but this issue is far too important to only discuss once a year.
My personal experience with censorship occurred in high school. My grade 10 English class was reading a book called Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford. Well, perhaps other students were reading it. Even then, I didn’t like being told what to read and I hadn’t started it. After a couple of weeks, the teacher asked us to return the books. He told us that parents were complaining about the language in the book and the decision had been made to take the book off the curriculum.
This incident should have taught me that being told what you may not read is even worse than being told what you must read, but at the time, I was just relieved that I had one less book to pretend to study. Later, I recognized how sad it was that we lost the opportunity to read the book, think about its content and decide for ourselves.
During Banned Books Week, I’d like to encourage everyone to read a banned or challenged book. The Bradford book is available at Toronto Reference Library, so I may take a trip there. Lists are available on the ALA website. Here is a small selection of my favourite banned and challenged books.
This book is the story of a teenager who stops talking after she is raped. Recently the subject of a challenge in Missouri, the irony that a book about speaking out is being silenced would be funny, except that it isn’t. Not even slightly.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My grade 10 class actually made it through this book and it became one of my favourite books. Students elsewhere have not been as fortunate. In 2009, it was removed from a school in Brampton over concerns about racist language in the book. This makes me really sad because it would have been a great opportunity to teach students how language evolves over time. A word that was commonplace in Alabama in the 1930s when the story takes place or in 1960 when the novel won the Pulitzer Prize may not be acceptable today for many reasons. By removing the book entirely, it is true that students are not exposed to the objectionable language, but they also lose the book's message of justice and tolerance.