professornana (professornana) wrote,

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I am a card- carrying member of NCAC, the National Coalition against Censorship. Basically, I try to support any organization that battles censorship. Censorship affects what I do for a living; it seeks to remove access to books by readers. Now it purports to be about protecting readers, but it wants to do so by making sure readers are to able to read books they deem inappropriate.

Here is the latest case of censorship as reported by NCAC: It centers on THIS ONE SUMMER, a graphic novel about coming of age. The parents of a 3rd grader checked it out of an elementary school library. This part confuses me already. Why are parents checking out a book? Why is it not the 3rd grader? Because if it were the 3rd grader who had difficulty handling the book, I would take the book from her or him and offer something a bit more developmentally appropriate. The fact that parents are involved make my spidey-sense tingle. Something is up here.

And of course, this event snowballed thanks to some fuel added by local media. The book was then pulled from every library, elementary AND high school and is now under review as administrators examine the process by which books are added to a collection. As this piece by NCAC points out, perhaps this is not the best book for an elementary library, but to remove it from the libraries for older readers is censorship. As for how the book was added, I suggest it might be because it won a Caldecott Honor Medal. All too often these award winning books are on almost an "auto-order" for additions to the collections.

Here is where a certified, educated librarian can make a key difference. He or she would not simply order the book because it was an award winner. There might be some other criteria in place, including the librarian combing reviews and recommendations, and reading the book in question.

And a certified and educated librarian would, I hope, stand up to the challenge and insist a process is followed. Removing the books from the shelves is not proper protocol. The process must be followed so that censorship cases may be handled appropriately.

Teachers, you, too, must know how to add books to your collections. I read a post recently where an educator was asking if a particular book was appropriate for her class. Why, I thought, does she not simply read it herself. Why ask someone else to do that job?

I know many educators do their jobs and are effective stewards of the books. But all it takes is an incident like the one described in the article to have a book removed, to ban access for all readers, to narrow the possibilities that some readers might find themselves in books. Each time we remove a book, we run the risk of preventing someone from the next step in developing a lifelong love of reading.

Most recently, a post to a professional listserv questioned a novel and whether it was too much for younger readers because the book made her or him cringe due to the raw content. I had read the novel in question. I found it to be raw and disturbing. I know it will not be a book for all readers (and is there such a thing anyway?). But the self-questioning of the person posting worried me, disturbed me. There is a line in TS Eliot about disturbing the universe. Jerry Renault echoes it in Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War. Do we dare disturb the universe? Do we dare eat a peach?

I think as educators, we have to disturb the universe, we need to confront our own squeamishness. We need to examine why a book makes us cringe and ask how other readers might respond similarly or differently. The educators I admire and respect do just this. We talk to one another, ask questions, question our own conceptions (and sometimes misconceptions). We made judgments based on what we know about books and about kids. We move beyond our own discomfort to ask, "What if this is the book, the one book that might make a critical difference in the life of even one reader?"
Tags: censorship
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