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Tales from Utah Valley: Defend the freedom to read

By Laura Giles - Herald Correspondent | Oct 1, 2022

Ted Shaffrey, Associated Press

A display of banned books is in a Barnes & Noble book store in Pittsford, New York, on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022.

Books unite us. Censorship divides us. So rings the theme of this year’s Banned Books Week, which was held last week. The theme may be especially important currently, when book banning is on the minds of so many.

Bibliophiles, parents, students, teacher, librarians and authors are worried. It seems to be a dangerous time for an important freedom – the freedom to read and the freedom to write. While there are definitely books that different ages of children should not read, book banning often goes too far.

According to American Library Association, library staffs in every state are facing unprecedented attempts to ban books. This is a shame because many of the books that are routinely challenged or banned share stories that do, indeed, unite us. Reading experiences of people who are different from us can only serve to increase empathy, understanding and knowledge.

One book that is frequently challenged and banned is the young adult/teen book titled, “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson. In fact, it was one of the 10 most challenged books of 2020. The story is about a teen girl who is sexually assaulted by an acquaintance from school. Readers learn about the struggles that the victim lives through after the assault.

The power of this book comes from the experiences — and healing — of the main character, a character with whom far too many teens can relate. Additionally, Anderson has spoken frequently about how teen boys question why the rape victim in her book was so upset. They did not understand the gravity of this situation until her book came along. Lessons were definitely learned by readers.

Ted Shaffrey, Associated Press

Librarian Sabrina Jesram arranges a display of banned books during Banned Books Week at a New York Public Library branch in New York City on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022.

In fact, literature is commonly used to teach important lessons. Why? Through stories, people are able to have experiences without actually having the experiences. Stories are the next best thing to the real thing. Topics that may be abstract to children or adults, such as hope and resiliency can become concrete through stories. Readers are able to empathize with the characters, problem solve, predict outcomes and learn important life lessons through the use of books. Teachers know this and use books daily – both fiction and nonfiction – to teach important concepts.

Additionally, literature becomes a vehicle for important discussions that otherwise may not occur. Some of these discussion topics, such as suicidal thoughts, LGBTQ+ issues, bullying and depression, may be uncomfortable for parents and bringing them up may seem unnatural and contrived. Reading a story together, though, is a perfect way to open up and let the discussions begin.

The beautifully written book, “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson has been challenged and banned in recent months, according to http://EdWeek.org. The book, written in verse, is a memoir of Woodson’s childhood in the 1960s and 1970s. What a shame that some people won’t have a chance to read it.

I may not have needed to read a book that detailed experiences of growing up as a racial minority, but others do. I may not have needed a book that focused on the LGBTQ community, but others do. I might not have benefited from reading about how a teen girl deals with being raped, but others have. The freedom to choose these books is what is taken away when we don’t defend important literature.

What do “The Holy Bible,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “Harry Potter,” “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Where the Wild Things Are” all have in common? They’ve been banned often because some people found them offensive.

Let readers decide. Let parents of readers decide. Defend the freedom to read. For more information about Banned Books Week, go to http://bannedbooksweek.org. More information about banned and challenged books can be found at http://ala.org.

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