Just happened to mosey on over to my blog stats this evening, and found that some folks were being referred here by another blogger who writes The Sassy Bibliophile. Take a peek at her site for a perspective from a middle school circulation desk!
Now on to the serious stuff. This week, I signed a petition started by some high school students in protest of thinly veiled book censorship in their district. You can check out the petition and get more information here. I don't go around willy-nilly signing every petition that comes across my Facebook feed or in my email inbox, but this cause means a lot to me.
Let me take you back to my childhood to give you some background on my reading values. Books were my friends growing up as a military BRAT, constants in a world that literally
changed for me every 18 months to three years. There were books that traveled with us, books that we got through book-of-the-month clubs, and there were bookstores and libraries--always libraries, found on military bases, in DoDDS overseas and public schools stateside. I learned to look for my favorite books in each, hoping to make my global travels seem a bit more homey and secure.
During all that traveling and growing up, I can never, ever remember having my reading choices censored. In fact, I recall the opposite. My mother's "mind candy reading" was Harlequin romances, and I think she had one in progress in every room of the house. I don't recall every getting in trouble for sneaking a peek at those in my middle grade years! Most of the "taboo topics" were shared with me through books, when my mom deemed me to be ready for them, be it the Readers' Digest Life Cycle Library or the paperback of The Thorn Birds. When she handed me the latter (I think I was thirteen or so), I remember reading one steamy passage, then hunting her down and saying "You do know about this chapter, right?". She just smiled and said something like "Keep reading, it's a good book--a bestseller." My mom was right; it was a good book, more than just that steamy chapter that served to clue us in to the naivete of the character involved.
And you know what? Reading about sensitive topics did not make me want to run out and take unnecessary risks. It did give me a preview to the complexities we face growing up, and made me aware of choices that I might have to make. I could learn from characters' mistakes, and when they overcame obstacles, I felt like I could, too. I was lucky in having a fairly idyllic childhood, but I had friends who didn't, and books helped me to be supportive of their struggles because I knew if someone had written about it, they weren't just isolated issues. They were helped by those books, too, for the same reason.
So it scares me when people can't see beyond the language, violence, or subject matter that they deem to be "inappropriate", and can't grasp the lessons and comfort that can be gained from such books. It worries me when they can't trust teachers and librarians to pick reading material for their students, and when they feel the students themselves can't be trusted to self-censor. I know for a fact that many students can and do censor themselves, because I see it in my home, and I see it and encourage it in my library. Not every book is for every reader, and comfort levels vary--and that's okay. Removing books from shelves because they make one person uncomfortable denies access to other readers for whom the book may be a "perfect fit", just the thing they need to read to educate and empower themselves.
One last note, lest this stir up any worries about choices I make for books in my workplace library. I may be against censorship, but I am not clueless when it comes to choosing books that are age-appropriate for my elementary crowd. I select books using several sources such as the state Bluebonnet and 2x2 lists, Kirkus reviews, curricular needs, and recommendations from students, teachers, and lit professors. Serious coming-of-age topics are just that--coming of age--and most students will have the chance to read those books in their middle school and high school libraries....if they aren't pulled from the shelves by scared, distrustful adults.
P.S. My advice to parents who are worried about their children's book choices--read the books, too. Ask them about the passages which concern you, engage in booktalk with your child; you may be happily surprised at how well they interpret and navigate those details, and what they gain from them. Wouldn't you rather they learn that now, in the safe confines of a book and your home, before they face the complex world they'll enter as young adults? Keep on reading!
(Photo of PAHS courtesy of the school website,