Sunday, September 28, 2008

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

September 27th kicked off this year’s Banned Books Week. Its purpose is to raise awareness of how many books are being questioned or challenged by certain groups who then want those books to be pulled from schools, libraries, and bookstores. Some reasons for objections are the content is too sexual, too violent, too vulgar in terms of language, too offensive to certain racial or religious groups, and/or too supportive of homosexuality. Not only do some of the reasons sound outrageous but to allow books to be pulled from the shelves because they go against someone’s point of view takes away not only the author’s right to express his or her opinions but the reader’s right to read whatever it is he or she wants.

Through the efforts of the American Library Association (ALA), books are no longer being banned. They are however still constantly being challenged- which is the attempt to remove the books from the shelves or school curriculum and restrict people’s access to them. The ALA makes sure that they remain available for everyone.

In lieu of Banned Books Week, I decided to read one of the most challenged books of 2007- “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. (I was surprised to see most of the titles, as this one was, were children’s books.) Based on actual events in New York City’s Central Park Zoo, this picture book tells the story of two male penguins who’ve partnered up and became “adoptive” fathers. The reasons for challenging this book includes “anti-ethnic, sexism, homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group”.

I thought the story was sweet. Despite the subject matter, there was nothing offensive or preachy about it. It’s not like the penguins were doing the deed. I don’t understand how this can be considered “anti-family” when it’s just showing another type of the modern definition of what makes a family. As for “unsuited to age group”, I did wonder if kids should be reading about things they can’t fully comprehend. (“And Tango Makes Three” is targeted for the preschool and early grade school crowd.) But some people might actually find it comforting there are books aimed for kids that deal with controversial topics- not only of homosexuality but death, racism, terrorism, etc.

Books sometimes have a way of reflecting the unsettling parts of society and its people and I think the offensive faults people find in others or in books are just what they’ve been afraid to tackle in their own lives. While we can’t control people’s opinions even if they are hateful and offensive, we can choose to listen to them or not.

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