Banned books week

Editor's note; clarifications and corrections:
In a story that ran in the Torrington Telegram on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, titled "Banned Books Week", on page A5, a portion of the story named some non-fiction books on the national frequently challenged and banned books list as fiction books. The corrected paragraph should have read:

Non-fiction books that have been contested for roughly thirty years include Thomas Keneally’s “Schindler’s List,” which was made into a film, “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, “Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang,” “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin, and “I Am Malala” by Yousafzai Malala. Most of these titles speak to counter-culture as it relates to the author's race, racial identity, religious identity and conformities and desire to be recognized, successful.

It has been corrected in this article.

GOSHEN COUNTY – Goshen County is doing a number of exciting things around the county in preparation for National Banned and Challenged Books week, which started Sunday and runs through the end of the week, Sept. 18 through Sept. 24.

Goshen County Library is putting together a display for residents, young and old, to explore books on the banned and challenged lists nationwide in an effort to highlight the value some of these books bring to emerging readers, avid readers and casual readers of all ages.

According to Goshen County School District (GCSD), school librarians will also have small displays with commonly challenged and banned books. Some examples of books that can be found in the county starting this week include: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “1984” by George Orwell, The complete collection of William Shakespeare, “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling and “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson.

“Books are banned and challenged because they are necessarily ‘bad’ or ‘not good for us’,” Goshen County Public Library Director Cristine Braddy told the Telegram. “Books are often challenged and banned because they are misunderstood, taken out of context and consideration of the time in which they were written and why they were written – in addition to, sure, some offend our sensibilities, or what we believe to be true.

“However, books should never be banned, that’s where we start getting into a slippery slope as it relates to our freedom of speech – of which part of our summer program discussed – and it’s a hard hill to climb once you go down it,” Braddy added.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), a national organization which supports librarians of all levels nationwide, some of the most popular banned books from 2010 through 2019 include more Newbery Honor Books and other award-winning classics such as: “A Child Called It” by Dave Pelzer, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou due to “offensive language” and “racial slurs.” 

However, not only are award-winning classics like mentioned previously being challenged and banned, childhood classics like “Where The Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein, and various titles by Dr. Seuss – six of which were announced last year that the publishing company would no longer print due to “portraying people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Those six titles include “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer.” However, other Dr. Seuss classics are also now being challenged and banned, such as “Green Eggs & Ham,” “The Cat in the Hat” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for various reasons.

Book banning doesn’t just stop at fiction and docufiction, such as Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” nonfiction books along with religious texts are also among the most challenged and banned books in America today; the traditional Christian Bible remains the number one challenged and banned book across the nation today and has been for the last nearly three decades, other religious texts, like the Jewish Torah and Muslim Qur’an following closely behind.

Non-fiction books that have been contested for roughly thirty years include Thomas Keneally’s “Schindler’s List,” which was made into a film, “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, “Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang,” “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin, and “I Am Malala” by Yousafzai Malala. Most of these titles speak to counter-culture as it relates to the author's race, racial identity, religious identity and conformities and desire to be recognized, successful.

For instance, Malala Yousafzai was a young adult in Swat Valley, Pakistan who was killed for standing up for women to have the right to an education in the Middle East in the 1990s. Her family compiled the book and since then, Islamic leaders have condemned the banning of this book, but in America, it still ranks among the highest books requesting to be banned.

Other surprising books on the most frequently challenged and banned books lists include C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, “The Walking Dead Comic Book Volumes” by Robert Kirkman, “The Giver by Lois Lowry,” “The Lord of the Rings” series by J.R.R. Tolkien and “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, which explores several topics tweens and teens face today, including in Goshen County, such as suicide, drugs, sex and rape. The book was later made into a television series.

Perhaps more surprising are the titles for smaller children ranking higher on challenged and banned book requests, such as; “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, “Winnie-the-Pooh” by A.A. Milne, “James and the Giant Peach” by Roald Dahl, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, “The Nancy Drew Files” series by Carolyn Keene, “Redwall” series by Brian Jacques, The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and nearly every title by Edgar Allan Poe.

“While I think we can agree that books should be considered for each individual child’s needs, reading skills, maturity level and family culture – we can also agree that banning books for whatever reason is listed is a step in the wrong direction as it relates to not only educational purposes, but also personal growth opportunities,” Braddy explained.

Braddy also said, “when a family sits down and reads a book together, perhaps one of the titles we mentioned today, that child has the opportunity to ask questions, to seek guidance from their parents and I think that is more of a teaching opportunity missed and does not correlate to the desired outcome in avoidance when we ban books because of topics we disagree with.”

The library director also said a more common practice emerging as it relates to book banning is not the title of the book, nor its content – but rather, the author.

“A concerning trend right now that we are seeing as librarians is books being banned simply due to the author because of something they may have said or done,” Braddy explained, “J.K. Rowling is one example along with Dr. Seuss.”

When asked about best practices for parents to read challenged and banned books with their children, Braddy said, “If you are unsure about a book, you read it first because that gives you time to explore the book first and have talking points ready for when, if your child asks you questions.”

When asked what her favorite challenged and banned book is to recommend to families, Braddy said she couldn’t pick just one book, and listed several classical literature books, many of which are award-winning books teachers continue to read in classrooms today despite challenges and bans.

“It’s impossible to pick just one book that is my favorite when recommending one to a child and/or family because each family and child is unique,” Braddy explained. “However, I think we need to read books that push our understanding of the world around us, our comprehension and ability to think critically using deductive reasoning skills – to see the symbolism as it relates to the time in which it was written and in today’s society, so that we can draw these parallel connections in meaningful ways.”

Two such examples she listed are Orwell’s “1984” and Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” “These books give us a safe place and environment to deconstruct similarities and differences in our world and the world in which these titles were written,” which she said is an invaluable tool for developing critical thinking skills.

When asked what her goal is at the library for connecting young readers to titles, they may not have heard about, Braddy replied, “You know, it’s sort of a game of cat and mouse – whereas librarians we may recommend an author or title they might have heard about from a friend at school. So, they take it home, read it and come back. Then, if they liked it – we can sort of start the ‘well, hey, this book is very much like that book, would you like to try it?’ sort of investigatory approach.”

Braddy said although she hopes families would be encouraged to read challenged and banned books, it is not the goal of the library to tell families what they should or should not read if it contradicts a family culture. 

“We are very respectful knowing families around our county are different, they have different wants, desires and needs – some families allow certain topics and authors, and some don’t – that’s not bad, but we want to ensure we are respecting the boundaries of the families we serve as much as possible.”

Braddy said this is done with personal relationships with library goers and families, which could sometimes mean librarians giving a family more resources and information about certain topics, authors and books to make informed decisions for their family dynamics.

“I would just really encourage our families, our county to pick up a challenged and banned book – or several – during Banned Book Week and have a conversation with your family about why it is banned, what you could learn from it and how you can apply it to life,” Braddy said. “One that comes to mind now that can be applicable for today is “The Giver” in regard to the utopian society that falls apart but ends on a good term.”

The first reported case of book censorship in America was in 1637 was Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan by the Puritans. Since the 1980s, ALA has tracked, monitored, categorized and advocated for challenged and banned books, poems and texts. The practice of challenging and banning books has led to Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) cases, political and religious movements as well as self-identity and journey movements.

There are advocates, child developmental specialists and other professional experts on all sides of the discussion that applaud and condemn the practice of banning books – although most agree the unilateral banning of books is taboo. Ultimately, the ALA suggests parents be involved with what their children are reading at home and at school to best advocate for their children and family in meaningful ways. Most districts in Wyoming offer either/or an opt-in and/or opt-out reading option in school. GCSD does not have an official form or system but advises parents to work closely with their children’s teachers and school administrators if there are concerns about curriculum and/or reading materials; this is a long-standing stance of the district mentioned a number of times at different school board meetings.

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