Freedom to read | VailDaily.com

Freedom to read

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

"To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and the Harry Potter series — all classic childhood favorites, right?

They're also among some of the most historically challenged and banned books in the United States — proof that one person's idea of a masterpiece might be offensive and vulgar to another reader.

National Banned Books Week, which runs through Saturday, celebrates the freedom to read books such as these. Throughout the week, libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events.

Check out The Bookworm of Edward's banned books display or head to the Vail Public Library to catch the movie version of various banned books, including titles such as "Matilda" and "The Color Purple."

What's in a ban?

Books are considered banned when a library, organization or school somewhere has removed a book from its shelves based on objections someone has raised. A book is considered "challenged" if a person or group has raised objections to it, but the book was ultimately not removed.

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The reasons behind bans and challenges vary, but often center around offensive language, adult themes or racism. "To Kill a Mockingbird," one of the Vail Public Library movie showings, falls under most of those categories.

"That's actually one book I really like," said Liz Willhoff, of the Vail Public Library. "I read it multiple times in school for different classes. I think it's very well written and is a book I've always loved, but it's frequently challenged, I think as recently as 2011."

Most libraries are supportive of the freedom to read, so they're unlikely to remove a book based on content. However, teachers sometimes have to tread more carefully with the books they assign to their students.

Saundra Borel, who teaches reading intervention and AP English at Battle Mountain High School, said Eagle County teachers are allowed to choose titles they think are appropriate for their specific population and age groups.

She said that in the past 19 years, she's only witnessed one book challenge for an 11th grade contemporary novels class, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." One student and her parents submitted a formal challenge to the book, and the decision went before a committee.

"It was originally chosen by the teacher to engage students in reading, as well as to open up the conversation about current teen issues," said Borel. "In the end, the committee decided that the teacher could teach the book as part of a literature circle option as long as they didn't make the title mandatory. It seemed like a good compromise."

She said she tackles books that deal with controversial topics by helping students understand the key issues before they start reading.

"I help them build their background knowledge about the topics before we even open the cover. This helps alleviate any potential book drama," Borel said.

Not-so-distant history

It surprises some people to know that book banning isn't a relic of past times. According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, there were 307 book challenges in 2013 and many more go unreported.

In Colorado, the American Library Association and Kids' Right to Read Project reported that in 2007, Alamosa banned Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass" at a middle school library for what critics regard as the book's anti-religious views. District officials later returned the book to circulation.

In Colorado Springs in 2008, Carolyn Mackler's "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things" was challenged and removed at a middle school library.

In Castle Rock in 2008, Sarah Brannen's "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" was challenged at the county library because the children's book features two gay guinea pigs. In 2012, Richard Connell's 1924 short story "The Most Dangerous Game" was challenged at a school because it "only serves to encourage school violence."

Franny Gustafson, the children's department manager at The Bookworm, said Banned Books Week is an important event to let people know that bans and challenges still happen.

"As a book lover, it makes me sad to know that people are still trying to challenge books in these ways," she said. "Whether you agree with the content in a particular book, you don't have the right to tell other people whether to read it or not. Sometimes opening them and having a dialogue about what you disagree about it actually gets your further. I think a lot of books have inherent value."

Reading and parenting

Of course, when it comes to what a child reads, the decision is ultimately up to the parents.

"I can't imagine a parent in 2014 checking books against the banned books list," said Vail youth librarian Cricket Pyleman. "My personal opinion is that parents should be reading what their kids are reading and make a decision based on their personal values. I have plenty of parents of young children who don't want a book that has the word stupid in it for their first and second graders, and that's a perfectly OK reason."

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

10 most challenged titles of 2013

1. “Captain Underpants” (series), by Dav Pilkey

Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence

2. “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison

Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

3. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

4. “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James

Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

5. “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins

Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

6. “A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl,” by Tanya Lee Stone

Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit

7. “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green

Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

8. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

9. “Bless Me Ultima,” by Rudolfo Anaya

Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit

10. “Bone (series),” by Jeff Smith

Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

Source: Office of Intellectual Freedom

Banned books on the big screen

During this year’s Banned Books Week, the Vail Public Library will be showing films based on books that have been banned or challenged in the past. All showings start at 3:30 p.m.

Monday – “Bridge to Terabithia”

Tuesday – “Matilda”

Wednesday – “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Thursday – “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

Friday – “The Color Purple”

These movies are free and open to the public. Popcorn will be served. Feel free to bring a blanket. For more information, call the library at 970-479-2187.