Freedom to Read Week is a nationwide event sponsored by the Book and Periodical Council to raise awareness and affirm Intellectual Freedom. Every year the Millennium Library and the Manitoba Writers’ Guild host a Freedom to Read Week event to celebrate our right to read. As a librarian, I support Intellectual Freedom and in so doing have defended the Library’s Material Selection Policy often and without regret. Occasionally, however, my professional values and parenting skills don’t coincide. To wit: last week, my 8-year-old daughter picked up Afua Cooper’s “My Name is Henry Bibb: A Story of Slavery and Freedom” from the coffee table, began to read it and asked me: “Daddy, what is slavery?” Suddenly, a few questions of my own streamed through my consciousness, and while I was considering my response, my daughter changed the subject and my parental crisis was over. That is until she retuned an hour later to ask why I hadn’t answered her question. Relunctantly, I found myself in a conversation about a very difficult subject. Although I’m not quite sure she understood everything that we had talked about, I no longer regret leaving the book on the coffee table.
The vast majority of challenges to books in libraries are from parents wanting to protect their children from difficult social, political, cultural and moral issues. Lately, two well received books written for young adults have been the center of a controversy in the United States: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk. These are tough, no-holds-barred books about terribly painful events that are portrayed realistically. On the other hand, these novels also take the reader through a journey to a hopeful conclusion. I understand and sympathise with a our need to protect children. On the other hand, keeping information away from children won’t protect them from harm. So, the next time my daughter or son ask questions about a book that I’ve left on the coffee table, I hope I will embrace the questions rather than try to avoid them.
I will read a passage from one of these novels during the Freedom to Read Marathon at the Millennium Library on February 25th from 12-5. I invite you to register for a 10-minute slot to read a book from a selection of banned and challenged books or bring your own.
To register for a slot, please call 986-6779.
For more information about the controversy surrounding “Speak” and “Whale Talk” click here.