Banned books celebration promotes freedom of expression
By Cynthia Henry
Inquirer Staff Writer
Friday will feature some unusual story times at local libraries, when passages from once-verboten books are read aloud to mark Banned Books Week.
"Where we live, the free expression of ideas is unlimited. But that doesn't prevent well-meaning people from trying to suppress information," said Donald J. Farish, president of Rowan University in Glassboro. "As a university, we need to stand up. We do not believe in censorship."
In 1982, the American Library Association, in collaboration with publishers, authors and booksellers, set aside the last week of September to raise awareness about censorship. Beyond outright prohibitions, Banned Books Week highlights "challenges" - formal, written complaints to remove or restrict material so a group of people cannot see it.
"When we started Banned Books Week, hundreds of books were being removed from shelves in any given year," said Judith F. Krug, director of the association's Office of Intellectual Freedom. "Last year 40 books were removed in some library somewhere in the United States."
Every state in the country has had challenges - most brought in schools or school libraries by parents - of material deemed overly sexual, profane or violent. Portrayals of racial and religious groups and of homosexuals also have led to objections.
Controversial titles range from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to contemporary novels such as Toni Morrison's Beloved. Oft-listed children's authors include Judy Blume, Chris Crutcher, Dav Pilkey, Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling.
"It's not just the books that make you blush," said Thomas Devaney, a poet and senior writing fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, who will read Friday from the Dutch author Erasmus at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadephia. "The event is a dramatization of the ongoing struggle between ideas and the attempt to keep them out."
At noon that day in Rowan's Chamberlain Student Center, Farish and his wife, Maia, will read from the Newbery Award-winning children's novel On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer. Mature themes and language in the story - about a boy's guilt concerning his role in the death of a friend - led to objections in Iowa and Pennsylvania. Other Rowan faculty also will read from frequently challenged books at the center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The American Library Association documented 420 book challenges in 2007, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the association's Office of Intellectual Freedom. She estimated that for every objection reported, as many as five go unrecorded because of confidentiality, uneven state reporting standards, and threats to teacher and librarian employment.
Parents have asked Cheltenham High School librarian Randi Wall to take books off the shelf, but she said she usually can persuade them to support unlimited access.
"Everyone's got their own belief," Wall said. "I won't not put [a book] here because one or two people object."
Advises Krug, "If you don't like something you pick up in the library, put it down."
Every year in late September, Wall fills a school showcase with once-banned works. Students are always curious, she said, especially about the objections raised to the "un-Christian sorcery and witchcraft" in the Harry Potter novels.
The Mount Laurel Library rented a traveling exhibit from the Long Island Coalition Against Censorship which will be at the facility, at 100 Walt Whitman Ave., through Oct. 4. It highlights 150 years of challenges not only to books, but also to school newspapers, a student video, a play, and science curriculum.
Samantha Marker, librarian of Mount Laurel's young-adult collection, said the exhibit had helped her direct teens to the sources so they could decide for themselves.
"You read it, and you make a choice," Marker says she told them.
Devaney, also a visiting poet at Haverford College, will be one of eight readers from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday at the Rosenbach, at 2008-2010 Delancey Place in Philadelphia. He chose a passage from Erasmus' "The Praise of Folly," a satirical essay critical of the Catholic Church. The work was published in 1511 and was later banned by the church.
"The program will explain what was banned and why," said Judy Guston, the museum's curator and director of collections.
Books from the Rosenbach collection, including Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen, will be on display. That children's favorite has regularly made the library association's "most-challenged" list since its publication in 1970 because of baby Mickey's nudity.
"Quite a few librarians preferred Mickey Fruit-of-the-Loomed," Sendak said in an interview in 1991.
The Rosenbach and Philadelphia Center for the Book also commissioned five booked-theme artworks related to banning, censorship and control. That exhibit will be at the Free Library of Philadelphia's Central Library, 1901 Vine St., from Oct. 14 to Dec. 5.
"Banned books tell stories about society that make people anxious enough that they wanted to censor them," Devaney said.
"These programs are a validation," he said. "These books were once banned; now they're revered. What does that say about the ideas people are trying to ban now?"
Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2007
1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell. Picture book. Reasons: anti-ethnic, sexism, homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group.
2. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier. Youth novel. Reasons: sexually explicit, offensive language, violence.
3. Olive's Ocean, by Kevin Henkes. Youth novel. Reasons: sexually explicit and offensive language.
4. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. Youth novel. Reason: Religious viewpoint.
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Novel. Reason: racism.
6. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. Novel. Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language.
7. TTYL, by Lauren Myracle. Youth novel. Reasons: sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group.
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. Novel. Reason: sexually explicit.
9. It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie H. Harris. Youth nonfiction. Reasons: sex education, sexually explicit.
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Novel. Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group.
Source: American Library Association (www.bannedbooksweek.org)
Contact staff writer Cynthia Henry at 856-779-3970 or email@example.com.