PITTSBURG — It’s said one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but all too often books — and their attendant ideas — have been judged without looking much deeper than the cover.
Many books have been “challenged” or “banned” because of the content within their pages. From classics “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair to children’s books, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” by Kathryn Harper and “Where’s Waldo?” by Martin Hanford, each have been challenged by concerned citizens over the years.
According to the American Library Association “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.”
Banned Books Week is celebrated by libraries across the United States. The event begins Sunday and lasts all week.
“This is not an activity we do alone,” Pittsburg State University Learning Outreach Librarian Jorge Leon said. “Most libraries follow the American Library Association and the American Library Association has annually sponsored events, supports and dedicates usually the last week of September as Banned Books Week.”
The event “celebrates the freedom to read” and is part of a coalition of organizations “dedicated to freedom of expression.”
“It’s anchored around this long tradition American Library Association has, of celebrating banned and challenged books,” Leon said. “It definitely has impact with us today, this day and age and everything we do around us.”
PSU will host its annual Banned Books Week event on Wednesday and Thursday. It will focus on broadside art and censorship, banned or challenged children’s books and the Tilford Diversity Group will co-sponsor a discussion titled “Justice System and Colorblindness.”
Leon said banned books and censorship can be very abstract with many facets to think about, from the First Amendment, the Constitution, to whom can publish and what constitutes bias.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Parents or a concerned citizen may try to remove a book for an entire school district, rather than suggest the book be used for a different age group, “they try to object for everybody,” Leon said.
“Sometimes you might have a student that grows to a certain age that never had access to certain material because someone designated that a book was too violent or that book talked about sexual themes,” Leon said.
One book which has been challenged repeatedly since it was published is, “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, published by Simon & Schuster in 2005.
The book is modeled off a real story about two male penguins in a New York Zoo which nurtured an extra egg from another “penguin family.”
“This fantastic book shared themes of family and the animal kingdom, and nurturing,” Leon said. “A number of parents thought it was objectionable.”
Many of the challenged or banned books reflect on recent culture and the conversations being had about it.
Censorship doesn’t just end at books, Leon said.
On Wednesday as part of Banned Books Week, students in Assistant Professor of Art S. Portico Bowman’s Printmaking and Letterpress class will share the art they created with broadsheets and typesetting, combining themes of censorship and the history of what broadsheets were used for, such as proclamations, posters and the first publication of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
“Just like I want students who are in elementary education to be prepared, I want art students to also know there are people that very frequently challenge artwork because of the content,” Leon said. “They might object to the way the art is portrayed.
“In art, it is sometimes much easier to see the extremes because you are confronted with that visual, where with a book you have to read through it to get that content.”
Eric Gill, young adult pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and an adjunct professor of practical theology at Phillips Theological Seminary, will use Michelle Alexander’s book, “New Jim Crow,” to discuss how the book is not allowed in some penal systems on Thursday as part of another Banned Books Week presentation.
“The book presents a very harsh exploration of the justice system, talking about what the author perceives are statistical demonstrations of the justice system not being color blind, that it tends to be unfavorably weighed against African American males, particularly young males, and that there are policies put into place that are inherently discriminatory,” Leon said. “The interesting connection to this, in the penal system in a lot of states don’t allow inmates to read it, it’s part of their own list of ‘we don’t allow these materials in.’”
Educators and Libraries
When concerned citizens voice their suggestions to a public library or school there is a process they must go through based on the American Library Association’s policy.
Librarians speak to the concerned individual and ask questions about what particularly is in the book that is objectionable. Pittsburg Public Library Director Bev Clarkson said most concerns she has encountered at the library were resolved through conversation.
“They usually have the best of intentions,” she said.
If the suggestions by the librarian are not a suitable answer for the concerned citizen, a form must be filled and the completed information is taken to the library’s board of trustees. From there it is decided what to do with the book.
Librarians research books, searching for awards, content and feedback from readers before purchasing them for the library. The library also keeps the community’s culture in mind and takes in community requests for books.
PPL is also celebrating Banned Book Week with a display of banned books behind bars. People have an opportunity to write on a bulletin board which books they would go to jail for.
Educators face a different situation when a concerned parent or guardian has suggestions regarding a book, PSU Professor Susan Knell said. Knell has an international reputation in children’s literature and is part of the PSU College of Education’s Teaching & Leadership program.
When a student selects their own book and the parent has concerns, the teachers or librarians can suggest the child not check it out again based on a parents request, parents have the right to choose what their child reads, Knell said.
However, when it comes to books which are read by the entire class it can be difficult for the student because this child must read a different book than the others, which may lead to exclusion of that student who may have to sit in another room during discussion of and reading aloud of the book.
Concerned parents, guardians or citizens usually go through a similar procedure as libraries which includes discussion with the educator and then the filing of a form — which includes questions such as what part of the book is objectionable, have you read the book, do you know of any awards it has received and what book has a similar theme which could replace the book in question?
Knell said there is a challenged school book reconsideration procedure which she hopes each school district has in place.
On Wednesday, people can learn more information on what educators do when faced with concerned citizens during a presentation by Knell titled “Challenged Children’s and Picture Books.” The presentation will include a few challenged or banned books often read in schools, which might surprise people, she said.
PSU’s Scheduled Events for Banned Books Week
The first event, Broadsides Art & Banned Books Display, will take place at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, on the first floor of Axe Library. The event will be a reveal of broadsides created by students in Assistant Professor of Art S. Portico Bowman’s Printmaking and Letterpress class.
At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Professor Susan Knell, who has an international reputation in children’s literature and is part of the College of Education’s Teaching & Leadership program, will present “Challenged Children’s and Picture Books.” The presentation will be in Room 115 of the library.
At 6 p.m on Thursday, the Tilford Diversity Group will co-sponsor a discussion titled “Justice System and Colorblindness.” It will be held on the first floor of the library.
All events are open to the general public. Light refreshments will be available and Axe Grind will be open for additional purchases.
Top 10 Frequently Challenged Books in 2017
“Thirteen Reasons Why” written by Jay Asher
“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” written by Sherman Alexie
“Drama” written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
“The Kite Runner” written by Khaled Hosseini
“George” written by Alex Gino
“Sex is a Funny Word” written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
“To Kill a Mockingbird” written by Harper Lee
“The Hate U Give” written by Angie Thomas.
“And Tango Makes Three” written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
“I Am Jazz” written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
(Information provided by the American Library Association. To learn more about these books, awards and reasons for being challenged or banned people can visit www.ala.org)
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.