I attended an event last night called Banned Together in support of Freedom to Read Week. It was a lovely evening where many authors, publishers, and readers read from their favourite banned or challenged book. I have to say that I recognized the majority of the books having read them as a child and not even realizing that they had ever been banned or challenged! I am ever so grateful that my parents and my school librarians and teachers never, ever told me what I should or should not read. Not once was I ever told that a book I had selected was “age inappropriate”. I am so grateful for this because I’m pretty certain that my voracious reading habits ensured that I made it through elementary and secondary school even though I rarely did any homework and often felt lost and stupid. I know for a fact that I read books that contained foul language, sex and other things that many adults feel that children should never hear anything about. I also know that I self-censored, which I think most kids are more than capable of doing. If something is over their heads or too much to handle, kids will simply put down that book and read something else. I know that I read a lot of novels that were intended for adult reading when I was in my “tweens” and I know that most of the time I just thought, “Gee, this book doesn’t make any sense…I wonder why everyone thinks its so great?”. I have since gone on to reread those titles as an adult and they make ever so much more sense these days!
The highlights of the evening for me were Tim Wynne-Jones reading from Brian Doyle’s Angel Square and two authors (I’m terrible for not remembering their names! Leave a comment if you know who they were!) who read from six of Judy Blume’s books; Tiger Eyes, Deenie, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Forever…, Then Again Maybe I Won’t, and Blubber. I am a huge fan of Tim Wynne-Jones’ work and I read my first short story written by him in Owl Magazine, probably when I was about 12 or 13. The story was Some of the Kinder Planets and it appeared later on in an anthology of short stories by the same name. I also vividly remember reading Brian Doyle’s Angel Square around the same time. I can actually remember lying on my bed reading the book in the evening after school. It was winter so it was dark out already. Obviously those stories made some impression on me since I generally have a memory like a sieve!
As for Judy Blume – what teenage girl’s life is complete without reading Blume’s entire canon of work? I remember reading and rereading all of her novels. They are so incredibly honest and it is so comforting to read a story about a kid who is just like you and has the same problems as you and is experiencing the same problems you are experiencing.
This is the first year I’ve done anything for Freedom to Read Week and I’m really glad I did. The importance of the cause is absolutely enormous and as someone who hopes someday to work in a school or public library with young people I think it is important for me to be an advocate for children’s rights to read and express themselves freely. I will be participating in Pelham Public Library’s Banned Book Challenge in an effort to become more aware of what kinds of materials people are challenging and what is being done to ensure the freedom to read. I have only set myself a goal of 5 books because of time constraints but I will certainly be reading more than that in the years to come!