One of my favorite books in my personal library is a battered French paperback of Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer." On the back there’s an imprint that reads: “Illegal to Import to US."
Hard to imagine today? Maybe not. Book banning is alive and well.
(Check out these 9 Books Banned for Bizarre Reasons)
Just last year, a school district in British Columbia decided to ban “The Perks of Being a Wallflower" when a group of parents demanded that the school remove the book. This was after a group of teachers and librarians had reviewed the book and determined it was age-appropriate.
One parent threatened a lawsuit, saying: “If the school board thinks that this is over, they had better stock up on Tylenol because there are a lot of parents who are going to be creating some headaches for them." So what can you do when books are banned in your local school?
Books are generally banned by school boards or pulled from public library shelves on the recommendation of executive staff. These administrators are far more likely to change their position if the book in question has been reviewed by a panel of teachers and librarians and deemed appropriate.
School board meetings are held monthly and are open to the public. At these meetings, you may request that the school board appoint a committee of district employees, including English teachers and librarians, so that these professionals may share their expert opinion.
This strategy has two advantages: English teachers and librarians are usually the least likely to be in support of censorship, and school boards have a difficult time explaining why they would reject such a proposal.
Usually few people are actually in support of banning books. However that minority is vocal. To overturn censorship, you will need the support of others in your community who disagree with having the particular book banned. Contacting your local media is one of the easiest and most effective ways to raise awareness and gather support.
Start with your local newspaper. Stories about book banning often get lots of response, including letters to the editor and calls to the news office.
Radio stations are also a good venue. Local stations sometimes have time available for community members to call in, and they are also likely to be open to an on-air interview at the radio station.
Be sure to present your case calmly. Don’t focus too much of your time explaining why you think a particular book shouldn’t be banned. Focus instead on the issue of censorship itself. People are more likely to support you if they believe that you are starting a public discussion for the benefit of the community as a whole.
In recent years, one of the most creative ways to fight book banning has been to partner with local bookstores. In response to the banning of Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," Idaho teen Brady Kissel worked with her local bookstore to raise money to purchase 350 copies of the young adult novel. The books were handed out to any teen who wanted one during World Book Night. In fact, when Alexie’s publisher Hachette Book Group heard about the maneuver, they sent an additional 350 copies for free.
If you don’t have any success at your local bookstore, contact the publisher directly. If they are willing to send free books for distribution, all you need is a place to give them away.
In an ideal world, this would be the first step. However school boards rarely review or rewrite policy without outside pressure.
Your goal should be twofold:
First, make sure the school board has not violated the policy already in place. This happens more than you’d think. Many policies were written years ago, and it’s not unusual for school boards to make hasty decisions without fully reviewing policies already in place.
Second, if the policy is unclear, ambiguous, or makes it far too easy to ban books, ask that the policy be reviewed and rewritten. In this case, the goal should be that in order for a book to be banned, it must first be reviewed by a panel of English teachers and librarians within the district.
It does no good to fight censorship if no one reads the books in the first place. Many Americans are simply unaware of how many books are banned each year. In the previous decade, the American Library Association reported over 5,000 challenges that had been reported to their office.
Only a portion of banned books are ever reported to the ALA. The more people who read banned books, the harder it is to encourage censorship.
Keep reading, and keep passing those books along!
Doyle, R. (2010). Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read. Chicago: American Library Association. Lombardi, E. (n.d.). How to Save a Book From Banning. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from About.com
Molland, J. (2014, April 29). Idaho Parents Call Cops on Teen Giving Out Free Copies of Banned Books. Retrieved from Care2
Rouyer, A. (2013, September 20). Fight For Your Right to Read: Banned Books Week 2013. Retrieved fromNew York Public Library
Suehle, R. (2011, September 27). How to fight censorship and share books during Banned Books Week. Retrieved from opensource.com
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Book Ban Fight 'Not Over' (2014, May 13). Retrieved from CBC News