November 29, 2007

I know that librarians tend to revel in this kind of stuff, but my most recent American Library Association e-letter is full of censorship news. The most troubling being, this Canadian librarian reports that while outright book banning is becoming less common in liberal Western societies (is the US still included in that list? after the 20 seconds I was able to stomach of the Repub YouTube debate last night, I’m not so sure), challenges on books in public and school libraries are on an upward trend. Pearce Carefoot, author of Forbidden Fruit: Banned, Censored and Challenged Books from Dante to Harry Potter and holder of the best Canadian name of the week prize, explained thusly: “It’s far easier for an authority to just shut down discussion than to enter into an argument.” I can pretty much back that up with personal experience–I’m not on the school librarian, I mean, media specialist track, but my mother-in-law is, and she was shocked to discover that their advice to school librarians was 1) hide the troublesome books as well as you can and 2) give in to challenges if you want your job. See, I told you librarians were practical people.

In other news, this guy apparently lost his contract as a literacy consultant after recommending a sci-fi YA novel that was, gasp, ranked by Scholastic as being for middle schoolers instead of elementary schoolers. Which is why it sucks to be you if you’re a bright fifth or sixth grader I guess. This is just particularly stupid, b/c the guy is a member of the 2009 Caldecott selection committee–I think that means he is good at picking out kids books. Also, the book he recommended sounds like something I want to read: Rodman Philbrick’s “The Last Book in the Universe.”

In more news, of course The Golden Compass just has to go, sez Catholics. This one is disappointing b/c a couple of months ago one of the teachers at D’s school sent a forwarded powerpoint to all the other teachers explaining how the The Golden Compass wants to kill God (?), and we just laughed. What a looney toon! Well…. we laughed too soon. Don’t these people have better things to do than protest books they clearly haven’t even read?

And in the last little censorship item of the day, we have this article about Claudia Hunter Johnson, author of the memoir, “Stifled Laughter: One Woman’s Story About Fighting Censorship,” who once upon a time lived happily in Lake City, Florida, until she got the crazy-ass notion that the high school ought not ban a Humanities textbook b/c it found the excerpts from Canterbury Tales and the Lysistrata objectionable. She fought the school on that, and the school won. No Chaucer for you, North Floridians! The story has a happy ending though: in the next Florida town she moved to, she was able to keep Of Mice and Men from getting banned, and she now spends half the year in Nova Scotia. Which is where I might look into spending all of my year if any of the Republican candidates I saw debating last night turn out to be our next president.


2 Responses to “Censorshippin’”

  1. Emily Says:

    SJ —

    My mother’s a children’s librarian, so she keeps us updated on these things… it’s amazing the sorts of things that people want to keep out of children’s hands.

    It gets particularly fun when it’s picture books that someone finds objectionable. She had one parent object to a book that has a little girl pretending to be a powerful fairy princess. A little girl who used her imagination. It teaches children witchcraft, this parent argued.

    Fortunately, my mother’s in an area where the libraries are less likely to cave to the censors (or wanna-be censors). (They are starting to get the Golden Compass stuff, since the movie’s coming out — interestingly, they hadn’t heard any complaints about the books until recently. The books have been out for a while, if I’m not mistaken).

  2. SJ Says:

    It is very much a regional thing–some places have cultures that favor standing up to censors and some don’t, and Florida seems to fall into the second category.

    The Golden Compass has been out a long time, which makes it all the more laughable that only now that it looks like it’s all set to be a popular movie do groups seem to think it’s worth their time to protest it.

    Maybe it’s part of conservative groups’ new business model: ride on the coat tails of popular culture to wider name recognition.

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