Home » News » Banned Books Week sheds light on censorship’s ‘slippery slope’
“Goodnight moon; goodnight cow jumping over the moon; goodnight light and the red balloon.”
The famous children’s book “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown is technically a “banned book” for two reasons.
When the book came out in 1947, a New York Public Library children’s librarian hated the book and thought it was too sentimental.
Therefore, NYPL did not carry it until the librarian left, Director of the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library System Erin Busbea told The Dispatch.
In the early 2000s, “Goodnight Moon” was under fire again because in a picture on the back of the book the illustrator, Clement Hurd, is holding a cigarette. HarperCollins, the publisher, and Hurd’s son together decided to digitally remove the cigarette because they said it promoted smoking to children.
Because the book was digitally altered, Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library children’s librarian Loraine Walker added it to her banned book story time reading on Wednesday. Loraine Walker, children’s librarian at Starkville Public Library, reads “The Story of Ferdinand” with a bull puppet on her hand for this week’s storytime. Walker read four banned books including “Goodnight Moon” and “The Story of Ferdinand,” which was challenged due to “promoting a pacifist agenda,” Walker said. Courtesy photo
“I tried to pick books that were banned for silly reasons,” Walker said. “I also think that censoring an image in a book is a slippery slope, and I am adamantly against smoking. Once you begin censoring what is already in a book, you really start challenging history, and we can’t learn from what we don’t see.”
Libraries across the nation, including those in Columbus and Starkville, are celebrating Banned Books Week this week, shedding light on works for adults and children that have been challenged or banned at some point somewhere in the world for one reason or another. The week sets to start conversation about current and historical censorship and celebrate the freedom to read and express ideas.
A book can be challenged, and even banned, within certain school districts and libraries for various reasons including containing material people or groups deem to be sexually explicit, having offensive language or being unsuited to any age group, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom said.
Before a book is banned, which means it is completely removed from a system, it is challenged. Just because a book is banned from one library or school district does not mean all other libraries or districts must also no longer carry that book.
Busbea said books are challenged often because of a misunderstanding.
“I think it’s just a big misunderstanding,” she said. “People here will see that a book has a sex scene or even profanity, and they think it’s terrible. It’s a common thing, and I think people just misunderstand and want to be heard. Everybody is allowed to be heard, but if people could listen and talk through explaining themselves and hear both sides.”
Both Busbea and Walker said the duty of the library is to represent the public and not an individual or specific group. When it comes to minors, it is up to the parents to determine what books are best for their child. That policy is also outlined in the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights.
Walker said she is willing to sit down with parents and go over material if they have concerns about a book’s content.
“I encourage parents to reach out to us at the library if they have concerns over a book,” Walker said. “I know a lot of parents see what others post on social media, and because their cousin might not like a book, they decide not to. I encourage them to read the book, talk to the librarians and do their own research on the book. My office door is always open, and I’d be more than happy to discuss a book with a parent.” The Columbus Public Library welcomed the public this week with signs outside its walls with statistics about banned books from the American Library Association. Books are challenged and even banned for many different reasons. Jessica Lindsey/Dispatch Staff
Books are challenged and banned for many reasons including profanity, violence, witchcraft and promoting “bad behavior.”
In the past few years, books have been challenged because of the content inside dealing with race and LGBTQ issues. Since 2017 when it came out, “The Hate U Give,” a book by a Mississippi author, has been challenged and banned in many places for “profanity, violence, and thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda,” the ALA website says.
Busbea said books with that type of content aren’t meant to teach children or adults to be violent. It’s often to teach them a broader lesson.
“I have my little wild things for the kids to look at,” Busbea said of her plushies in the window of her upstairs office. “‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is a challenged book because they said it was psychologically traumatizing to children because Max was sent to bed without dinner. Well the thing is, you can use it as a teaching tool because it can help teach children how to work through their emotions calmly, coolly as opposed to throwing a tantrum. There’s a way to use the books as a teaching tool.”
Banned Books Week began Sunday and ends Saturday, and both library systems celebrated the week with various activities and displays. At the library check out desk, free bookmarks with titles of banned books sat ready to be picked up by patrons. Materials and displays were posted throughout the buildings to address why books are banned.
Columbus-Lowndes held children’s banned book trivia and an adult audiobook read-a-thon. They are ending the week’s activities Saturday with a banned book presentation and refreshments at the Columbus location at 11 a.m. The Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library system held a children’s storytime.
Busbea said doing something for this week is important because not everyone is going to agree with why a book should be banned, and the population in the Golden Triangle is very diverse.
“We have a really great community that’s open-minded to the resources we have,” Busbea said. “We are here for everyone. We’re not just one perspective. We want all the perspectives to be in this building so that whatever you’re looking for you can find because we have people of so many different walks of life come through the library. We want to make sure that everyone feels welcome and represented.”
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