All around the world, books teach each new generation about things of past, present and future. Some are complete fantasy, and some relate the day-by-day details of a historical moment in time.

But many of these books have one thing in common: At one time or another, they have been challenged as being inappropriate. Many, in fact, have been banned by school and public libraries.

The American Library Association has spent the past 25 years urging readers to consider the freedoms granted by the U.S. Constitution, and to not take those freedoms for granted.

Banned Books Week was designed to celebrate the liberty to choose or express one’s opinion, even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular. It also stresses the importance of ensuring access to those unorthodox or unpopular views, for all who may be interested in them.

“After all,” reads the ALA Web site, “intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.”

Tahlequah High School Media Center Specialist Katie Chaffin has spent the past seven years in the library, watching as students and staff stroll through, browsing the shelves for the next piece of literature.

“We have many genres, and we try to find what the student likes to read,” said Chaffin. “We have science fiction, we have some love stories.”

The THS library contains an assortment of materials, but for the reader who has exhausted all options provided by the school, Chaffin has filled an anteroom with her own personal collection: hundreds of books featuring a variety of lengths, reading levels and genres.

“I think the reading part, when in high school, is reading what [students] have to,” said Chaffin. “So those who want to read extra, I try to get more books for them.”

Chaffin uses caution when selecting books for the library, but doesn’t ban any book from her collection.

“We’ve never had any issues; we’ve been very blessed,” said Chaffin. “We have some girls who have been in and selected certain books [others might consider controversial], and we often find out mothers are reading the books the girls take home.”

Chaffin examined a few of the books on the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century list compiled by ALA, including Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, and “Forever” by Judy Blume. Works of Blume features real-life scenarios Chaffin believes may unnerve many parents.

“I think these real-life subjects – parents don’t want their kids to know this stuff,” said Chaffin. “But, I think at this age, students like this stuff. I have teachers who say these love stories aren’t real, they’re just fantasy.”

Chaffin points out books containing realistic scenarios have valuable lessons embedded within them.

Many books challenged throughout history are selections students have or will encounter throughout their school years: “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley; “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain; “Oliver Twist,” by Charles Dickens; and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“If parents give children a background in right and wrong, and have taught them at home, they should be able to read anything,” said Chaffin.

For instance, Chaffin said “Of Mice and Men” was considered inappropriate because of the language used throughout the book.

“But back when this was written, people working in the fields cursed,” said Chaffin. “That’s just how it was.”

Many libraries maintain up-to-date policies to deal with book challenges. Most libraries, including that of THS, check to see if the complainant has read the entire book in question. More than 3,000 attempts were made between 2000 and 2005 to remove books from schools and public libraries, according to the ALA.

“When so many differing opinions and lifestyles are represented in so many differing styles, it’s easy to understand why occasional issues arise among concerned individuals,” said Teresa Swanson, an avid reader of many religious works of all styles. “Religion will forever be a mainstay of this country. Is ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ really any more religious than a book like, say, ‘Harry Potter’? Educated persons can pick up either of these novels, read them, and walk away still maintaining whatever values or beliefs they had before picking up that particular selection. For most people, books aren’t life-altering, they are just material to expand the mind.”

Swanson also believes political issues relating to religion often spur a movement to have books banned, and she’s opposed to seeing any book challenged on the basis of personal beliefs.

“Many conservative readers are going to argue against books depicting homosexual relationships, abortion - issues of great significance in today’s society. Those on the more liberal side will argue it is simply real life, and instead of trying to ban the pages and hide the facts, we should work to learn more about differing opinions,” she said.

Tim Hood believes certain books should be banned to discourage further decay of what he terms “proper morality and ethics.”

“So, we preach and teach right and wrong in school, but our children can turn right around, visit the local library and choose from a selection of books teaching us the ins and outs of that issue?” Hood said. “It’s confusing our kids to tell them one way, but let them read about it, learn about it. That’s why I believe we should be allowed to ban some books. It’s an issue of morality, and being able to censor the negativity.”

Hood also examined the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000, pointing out he could see why books such as “Daddy’s Roommate,” by Michael Willhoite, or “Heather Has Two Mommies,” by Leslea Newman, were being challenged.

“Daddy’s Roommate” was designed for children of homosexual men to examine life of a two-father family, while “Heather Has Two Mommies” was designed, similarly, to examine a two-mother family.

“These are children’s book!” said Hood. “It’s hard enough, and confusing enough, to deal with these issues as an adult. Where do we get off thrusting something this complex onto a child? I believe sincerely that these books should not be available to any child.”

Swanson felt the need to point out possible results of hiding reality from children.

“I agree children may be too young to read and fully comprehend such material, but are we to hide them from it forever? When they enter life as an adult, think of the culture-shock they will face,” said Swanson. “This is why banning books doesn’t necessarily make society any easier. As parents, we need to take the initiative to teach and prepare.”

Hood and Swanson both agree many adults do not appreciate being limited to what they can pick up to read at a public library.

Swanson pointed out a quotation on the ALA Web site from Blume: “[I]t’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”


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