Banned Books Week

By Jerilyn WatsonThis week, many Americans are observing their Constitutional right to read what they choose. They are observing the eighteenth yearly Banned Books Week. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Steve Ember. Banned Books Week is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

Every year, the American Library Association and other groups concerned with books observe a Banned Books Week. The association is the largest library organization in the world. Its statement says, " Celebrate your freedom to read."

The goal of the special week is to help protect the right of Americans to freely express opinions. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees this right. Banned Books Week provides the public with research and teaching materials about freedom of expression.

The first Banned Books Week took place in Nineteen-Eighty-Three. People who work with books started the observation. They did so because many American schools, libraries and bookstores had already restricted some books. And other books also were threatened with restrictions.Every year, some people ask schools, libraries and bookstores to remove books from their rooms and reading lists. People do this because they are offended by a book's subject. Or they do not like the content or language. They say reading the wrong books could harm both adults and children.

The American Library Association operates an Office for Intellectual Freedom. This organization examines requests by readers to ban books. The Office for Intellectual Freedom has made a list of these books. The list names almost six-thousand books. People tried to ban these books during the past ten years. However, most of the books listed were not banned because of the efforts of librarians and others.The Office for Intellectual Freedom says books often targeted include a number of classics. Classics are books that critics have praised. They remain popular many years after they were written. In Nineteen-Ninety-Eight, Modern Library, a publishing company, listed its choices for the one-hundred best novels of the twentieth century. One-third of the books on the Modern Library list also appear on the list of threatened books. Six of the Modern Library's choices for the ten best books of the century are also on the list of threatened books.For example, "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck is tenth on the Modern Library best-novel list. Some experts believe it is the finest American novel ever written. The book tells about the struggles and suffering of farmers who must leave their land because of bad weather and the economic Depression of the Nineteen-Thirties.

But "The Grapes of Wrath" has a troubled history. It started right after the book was published in Nineteen-Thirty-Nine. People burned copies of the book at the public library in Saint Louis, Missouri. Then the public library in Buffalo, New York banned the book. Readers there protested that the book contained bad words. Kern County, California, banned the book even though part of the story takes place there. Today the American Library Association says people still demand that "The Grapes of Wrath" be banned.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Another American classic is "The Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger. It tells the story of a teenager named Holden Caulfield. Holden leaves school. He goes to New York City. There he discovers many things about himself. And he learns about the false appearances of adult life. Critics praise the book for its truthful descriptions about young people and their feelings.

However, "The Catcher in the Rye" is one of the most often attacked books in the United States. People have asked that it be banned. They say it uses bad language and has sexual situations. And, they say it is too violent.

Still, the book remains one of the most valued novels in American literature. A high school English teacher in Chicago, Illinois says he believes no young person should leave the American education system without reading "The Catcher in the Rye."

(MUSIC BRIDGE))Members of minority groups sometimes call for restricting books they believe are insulting. They say they want to protect their dignity and human rights. For example, many schools throughout the nation require students to read "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain. It was published in the United States in the Eighteen-Eighty-Five. It is fifth on the Office of Intellectual Freedom's list of books most often targeted for banning.

The story takes place in the American South in the Eighteen-Hundreds. The main character is Huckleberry Finn, a white boy. He runs away from home. He meets Jim, a black slave who has escaped from his owner. They travel together down the Mississippi River. Huckleberry comes to understand that Jim is a human being and a good man -- not someone's property.The book makes some African Americans angry. They are insulted that anyone should question their humanity. They say the book causes white students to insult black students. They say the book should be banned from schools.

But defenders say banning the book would prevent thousands of Americans from reading a great American novel. Instead, they suggest that the book be taught better. They say teachers should make it clear that Mark Twain did not mean his book to insult black people.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))People have tried to ban all kinds of books. One of them is the classic, "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Another is "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. Several frightening novels by Stephen King are on the list of threatened books. So are several books for children. They include the popular "In the Night Kitchen" by Maurice Sendak. "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl. And a book of poems for children by Shel Silverstein called "A Light in the Attic."Another targeted book is "Heather Has Two Mommies" by Leslea Newman. It tells about non-traditional families.Also targeted for banning are the extremely popular Harry Potter books. British author J. K. Rowling wrote these books. The first, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", won the National Book Award in the United States.

Harry Potter is a young boy with magical powers. He and his friends have many adventures. Millions of children read the Harry Potter books. Many adults do, too. This past summer, people waited all night at bookstores to buy copies of the most recent Harry Potter book.

But some parents object strongly to the series. They say the books are too violent. They say they teach children about witchcraft. They say the books are frightening and anti-Christian.

People have proposed banning or limiting the books at libraries and schools in at least thirteen states. However, a number of publishers and book organizations have cooperated to establish a support group for the Harry Potter books. The group wants children to have the freedom to borrow Harry Potter books from libraries. It also works to make sure children can read the books at school.The American Library Association urges organizations that deal with books to resist banning children's literature. The association says only parents have the right to restrict what their own children read.

Judith Krug [pronounced krewg] has directed the Office for Intellectual Freedom for many years. She says libraries need to have policies to deal with objections to books. Ms. Krug says librarians should listen to people who are angry about a book they do not like. She says librarians should tell them why the library chose to buy and loan the book. She praised the fact that most threatened books are never banned.

A university librarian in Washington, D. C. says she knows some people want to protect others from harmful reading material. But, she says no one has the right to decide for others what might be harmful. And, she says, the real danger to Americans is that their freedom to read what they choose might be taken away.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.