Freedom to Read 2021: Banned & Challenged Books

This final post in our Intellectual Freedom series for 2021 focuses on three books that have been banned or challenged in recent years and why.
Freedom to Read Week 2021

If you read the first post in our Intellectual Freedom series you’ll know that thousands of books have been banned or challenged in our times. To wrap up Freedom to Read Week 2021 I’d like to highlight some of the books that have recently faced bans or challenges in North America, and that you can read for yourself by borrowing from our library. Get the full list by searching #bannedbooks in our catalogue. 

Robin Stevenson, notable Canadian author of children and teen books is very familiar with her books being banned or challenged. In 2019 she was in Chicago on tour for her book Kid Activists: True Tales of Childhood from Champions of Change when the night before her next school visit she was told it was cancelled. “A parent had complained because one of the 16 historical figures featured in my book was gay activist Harvey Milk, and the school district had decided to rescind their invitation“, said Stevenson in an article written for Freedom to Read Week. Funny thing is, that cancellation, and the resulting activism from supportive librarians, politicians, parents, and more, actually ended up amplifying her message. Read the full article at https://www.freedomtoread.ca/articles/canadian-author-of-kid-activists-speaks-up-about-school-cancellation-controversy.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was first lauded for its portrayal of migrants on the run, and was even selected for Oprah’s Book Club, but met a swift and harsh reversal of fortune when it was pointed out that the author herself was not a migrant, nor a minority. Many of the characterizations in the book are considered stereotypical and and exploitative and when this was pointed out by the Latinx community the book tour was “Cancelled for safety reasons”. Read more on this at https://www.vulture.com/article/american-dirt-book-controversy-explained and https://www.vulture.com/2019/10/who-gave-you-the-right-to-tell-that-story.

In the Canadian context, an Ontario library patron asked that the book not be promoted in displays or through library book clubs because of the portrayal of Latinx characters. So why is this book still in libraries? Because public libraries have the mandate to provide free access to books, regardless of their content. You will however, find that we want to continue this discussion of the book’s problems as part of our book clubs. If you check out the book club set featuring this book you can find discussion questions to help guide your group in understanding and discussing this controversy. If you’d like to focus on books written by authors who share a marginalized identity with the main characters in the books, check out our #OwnVoices booklist.

Picture books are often the target of bans or challenges because adults want to protect children from something they feel is inappropriate for that age group. At a Canadian public library a patron requested that My Crocodile Does Not Bite, by Joe Kulka, be removed because it was too scary for children and used the word “stupid”. This book is about a child named Ernest who brings his pet crocodile to the pet show at his school. A controversy explodes when his rival Cindy Lou, tries to have Ernest’s pet disqualified because she believes the crocodile (Gustave) is a stupid pet and will bite everyone (and because she wants her poodle to win).

Freedom to Read Week 2021 ends on February 27th but it is important to be aware of the issues facing readers and writers all year long. You can follow Freedom to Read Week on Facebook at facebook.com/FreedomToReadWeek for updates and check out their website freedomtoread.ca for more resources. Be sure to check out the displays at our branches and enter the Freedom to Read Contest before the end of the month. To learn more about why we fight to keep these books accessible, check out the Canadian Federation of Library Association’s Code of Ethics

This post is part 3 of 3 in a series about intellectual freedom in public libraries. To read the rest of the series check out our Intellectual Freedom tag.

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