As we celebrate the freedom to read during Banned Books Week, we should recognize that censorship is an ongoing international issue. Whether it’s outright censorship, “soft” censorship, or the “chilling effects” as a result of fear of censorship, there are many obstacles to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom to read around the world. Here are a few stories:
- A British Muslim woman was detained by airline staff when they saw her reading the book Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline. Story from The Guardian, August 4, 2016.
- The Turkish government shut down 29 publishers in reaction to a failed coup in the country. Leaders of publishing houses around the world condemned the action. Story from The Bookseller, August 18, 2016
- Chinese censorship: “While new technology is making it easier than ever to connect with others around the world, it’s also making governments more effective in keeping sensitive information within their borders.” Story from The Daily Dot, August 20, 2016
Here in the U.S. there is no state-sponsored censorship, but books are often “challenged,” especially in school libraries or in the children’s or teen sections of public libraries. A book might be moved from the children’s or teen area of the library to the adult section, removed from a school library, or removed from a school’s required reading list.
One example comes from the Henning School District in Minnesota, which removed the graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki in May of this year. This One Summer earned a Caldecott Honor for illustration in 2015, but was deemed “vulgar” by the school’s superintendent and removed from the K-12 library shelves. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund reports that a month after the book was removed, it returned to library shelves in a section for older readers, but even students in grades 10-12 need signed parental permission to read it.
This type of case is more common than you may think, and, according to a PEN America report, “a persistent pattern of attempts to remove certain books from public schools and libraries, combined with a lack of diversity in Children’s and Young Adult (CYA) book publishing, narrows the range of stories and perspectives available to U.S. students.”
All readers should have the opportunity to read widely. As one graduate of a Texas public school put it in The New Yorker, (“What Kind of Town Bans Books?” October 1, 2014), “I read whatever I wanted. Books were there, and they had taught me to value difference.” No matter your age or what country you live in, the freedom to read is paramount.