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ALA marks 30th anniversary of 'Banned Books Week'


ALA's Top 10 most challenged books of 2011



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October 03, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- On prominent display at the library this week were some very popular books from recent years, such as "The Hunger Games" trilogy and "TTYL" as well as the timeless classics, "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Brave New World."

Among the books that are often read by teenagers for pleasure or for assigned school reading was also the children's book, "My Mom's Having a Baby." But while the books grouped together in the display may have seemed diverse and random, they all share one thing in common— they are on the 2011 top 10 list of most challenged books as determined by the American Library Association.

This past week, Sept. 30-Oct. 6, marked the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read.

"We're just letting people know that censorship still exists in this country," said Jeanette Marks, adult and teen librarian. "There are books that are still challenged and we want to keep that in the forefront of people's minds— don't let other people make decisions for you."

According to the American Library Association's website, ala.org, Banned Books Week highlights the value of free and open access to information and draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

"The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read."

Marks notes that patrons do not often challenge books in the library's collection, but there is a form that can be filled out and submitted to the library if there is an objection. The one-page form, a "request for reconsideration of library materials," is one step in the consideration procedure. Once completed, Library Director Paula Gauthier will authorize a reconsideration process following ALA Intellectual Freedom policy guidelines, and call a review committee. A hearing may also be requested before the full library board. Any decision by the library board is final.

"Most frequently, challenges occur in the school system," said Marks. "Usually challenges fall under religioius viewpoints, language or sexual content."

Gwen Stine, Brandon High School English department chair, noted that book choices for the district come from the Michigan Department of Education, which assigns curriculum for all grades. As an example, "Romeo and Juliet," by William Shakespeare, and "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee are assigned for ninth grade students.

"Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain is often challenged, said Stine, "because of the n-word."

A revised edition of "Huckleberry Finn" was recently published that omitted that racial slur, as well as the word, "injun." This new version is offensive to Stine.

"I think it's an injustice to Mark Twain and I think he would be upset that someone would mess with his writing," she said. "He captured the dialect of the people he was following in a painstaking effort. It's something we talk about in the classroom— his style of writing."

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is also often challenged because of the n-word, but BHS English Teacher Kristen Kelsey notes that when taken in context, character Atticus Finch is telling his daughter, Scout, not to use that word. When Kelsey teaches the novel, she tells students there are uncomfortable words.

"We don't ignore it, but we don't focus on it," she said. "It gives us a platform for discussion... If students are going to encounter bigotry and hatred, we hope it's in a book so they will apply the lessons learned to their own life. A book is a safe environment to encounter these things."

Parents may sometimes have concerns about the books being taught to their children, but Stine and Kelsey encourage the parents to read the books, too.

"There may be a concern that we aren't teaching a valuable lesson," said Stine. "Maybe (parents) think we are teaching witchcraft when teaching 'The Crucible,' but that is because they haven't read the book. Parents want to know what their kids are reading. We encourage them to ask, but we also encourage parents to read the books in their entirety."

Marks agrees.

"Read the book and decide for yourself whether or not you want your children reading this or whether you care to read the rest of the series," she said. "No one has the right to tell you whether something is offensive, you have to discover that for yourself, and you shouldn't be trying to decide for anyone else."

ALA's Top 10 most challenged books of 2011

1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle

Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

2. "The Color of Earth" (series), by Kim Dong Hwa

Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

3. "The Hunger Games" (trilogy), by Suzanne Collins

Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence

4. "My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy," by Dori Hillestad Butler

Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

5. "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

6. "Alice,"(series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint

7. "Brave New World," by Aldous Huxley

Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

8. "What My Mother Doesn't Know," by Sonya Sones

Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit

9. "Gossip Girl," (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar

Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit

10. "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee

Reasons: offensive language; racism

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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