Banned Books Week

As I said back here, I grew up on folk music, including The Weavers–Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman, & Lee Hays. Not quite so many years back, but enough, I watched the 1982 documentary “Wasn’t That a Time,” about their 1980 reunion. What’s the one thing I remember the most strongly?

Lee Hays saying this about their experiences during the McCarthy era:

“If it wasn’t for the honor, I’d just as soon not have been blacklisted.”

This week is Banned Books Week. You can read about it at the ALA website.

I think it’s an important week. My world is highly made up of writing blogs, like yours, and I’m pretty sure we all hear a lot about censorship, about parents deciding a book can’t be taught in a school, carried in a library, offered to students. That a writer can’t come and talk to their kids. And, yes, thank goodness, we hear a lot about the other parents and the teachers and the librarians and the school administrators who fight on the other side.

We also, I think, hear a lot of joking. Like Lee Hays, we know–writers know–that humor is a way of coping with pain, that it can diffuse a battle and, sometimes, get a few more people to listen. We talk about how censorship will get an author more readers; that if a book is banned, its numbers will probably go up on Amazon.

Except, really, it’s just not all that funny.

Here are a few posts & articles that I think are important to read:

Guess what, guys? It hurts. It hurts the writers & it hurts the kids. How many decades later, Lee Hays was still angry and bitter and sad. Rightly so.

When I was in high school, a teacher got reprimanded for having us read a book, and told he couldn’t teach the book in class. I think it was Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. I was furious. At least I thought I was. I didn’t realize how much angrier I could get until the School Board president (at our request? Another teacher’s request?) came to “explain” their choice. That was probably the first time I truly realized how absolutely head-against-brick infuriating it can be for a kid to come up against an adult who just refuses to see or say the truth, to admit what they have done, to accept responsiblity–in full–for the choice they have made.

It was “not censorship.”

Yeah, right.

What changed in my life that day? Did I narrow my choices of books? Duh. No. Did I decide that I was going to take every chance I got to read a book an adult told me I shouldn’t? Sure. Did I decide that no authority figure would ever get automatic respect from me? Of course.

So, all in all, not a bad thing.

Except for the anger. The brick-wall fury. The helplessness.

Those feelings should not line the path that a kid takes to a book.

Read banned books. Read unbanned books. Give them to your kids. Give them to your friends’ kids. Give them to your schools.

And how’s about we do it 52 weeks a year!


  1. Jenn Hubbard says:

    Wow, I’m honored to be on that list of names!!

    Your school situation “wasn’t censorship?” I’d love to know what it was!


  2. K.M. Weiland says:

    I’m reminded of the Studs Terkel quote, “Just about every book contains something that someone objects to.” Censorship’s a dangerous thing; once it starts, no telling where it’ll stop.


    • beckylevine says:

      Exactly. The argument that people can pick and choose without being part of something wrong is just off. Obviously, there’s a difference between picking & choosing for your own young child & a larger group.


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