Each year, the American Library Association (ALA) designates a week in September to highlight awareness of banned and challenged books. This year, Sunday, September 27 through Saturday, October 3 is Banned Book Week.
Banned books can be a conundrum for parents. While parents reserve the right to decide appropriate reading material for their own children, many question whether it’s appropriate to dictate to all children based on the opinions of a few. And there’s no doubt that removing books from library shelves is nothing short of censoring the reading for all.
“When books are removed from school libraries, students lose out on differing opinions and access to information,” says Rochester parent and former elementary school teacher Kathleen Murphy. “That being said, it is a parent’s right to monitor what is right for their own child but not for other people’s children.”
“And Tango Makes Three”
Rochester is no stranger to this issue. In 2012, Rochester’s Gibbs Elementary removed copies of the children’s picture book “And Tango Makes Three” at the approval of two school board members. According to Jane Gibson, executive director of curriculum and instruction at Rochester Public Schools, the removal failed to follow the district’s policy under Procedure 606B, and the mistake was immediately corrected. The controversy centered around the book’s story of two male penguins who together adopt an orphaned penguin.
Rochester resident Pat Stephenson is passionate about books and served as a media paraprofessional in the district at the time. “I had the opportunity to read the book out loud and discuss it with six of my conservative friends at a meeting at my home. Not one of them thought the book should be challenged. [It’s] based on a true story,” Stephenson said.
Forbidden Books Pique Interest
Mayo High School made news last September when “The Painted Drum” was challenged due to sexual content deemed inappropriate by one parent for her 10th-grade honors student. The challenge was reviewed by committee and failed, but the real result is the piqued interest of local readers.
“There is no more surefire way to have a book read than to have it banned or challenged,” Stephenson said. Rochester Public Library librarian Katherine Stecher agrees, “If you make it forbidden, then interest is piqued.”
Reviewing Challenged Books
Stecher sits on the RPL committee to review challenged books. “It doesn’t happen that frequently, but we take them very seriously when they do happen.” Stecher explained that patrons may submit a request in writing and each request is then carefully reviewed before a decision is made.
“I, personally, have not ever recommended removing a title,” she said. “If there’s a reason why we bought it, there’s probably a reason for it to be there.” Patrons who dispute the decision are then asked to appeal to the library director.
Some of the more popular titles that have been challenged over the years may surprise you. Included are “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Fault in Our Stars, “Bridge To Terabithia” and the Harry Potter series.
“To think about a world where readers would not be given the chance to read it is beyond comprehension,” states Kathleen Murphy referring to “Bridge to Terabithia.” “The writing is simply lyrical. The incredible use of symbolism, allegory and imagery make this book a truly remarkable piece of literature.”
For more information on Banned Books Week, visit the ALA website at ala.org.
Catherine H. Armstrong is a passionate reader and strongly against book banning. Her first novel, The Edge of Nowhere, will be released in January 2016 by Penner Publishing. For more information, visit her website at charmstrongbooks.com