Shining a light on censorship

Michelle Wulfson | The ItemBanned Book Month is Huntsville Library circulation clerk Kristin Sion’s favorite display of the year. 

“Books have the power to grab a mind and to take it on a ride to another place and another time. It’s fiction, it’s imagination … when you censor imagination, what are we doing to our children when we’re taking that away from them?”

Those were the words of Huntsville Public Library circulation clerk Kristin Sion, creator of the library’s month-long display featuring banned books, which will run through September.

This will be the Huntsville Public Library’s second year putting on Banned Book Month, an elongated version of the American Library Association’s week-long celebration due to Sion’s love of the event.

Although Huntsville Public Library does not ban literature, books that are considered to be “banned” are decorated with a banner and short description as to why the book has been challenged to attract curious readers, incite conversations on censorship and celebrate the freedom of reading.

“I love doing this display, it’s my favorite display of the year because it really gets your attention and it gets a conversation started whether you agree with it or disagree, it brings awareness,” Sion said.

There are many different reasons as to why books are challenged or banned. The top three reasons according to the American Library Association are because of content that is considered to be “sexually explicit”, contain “offensive language”, or the material is “unsuited to any age group”, however reasons can be as simple as demonstrating poor grammar.

Hundreds of banned books reside in the library, and visitors are sure to find most on the library’s banned book display all too familiar.

Required reading lists are comprised largely of classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Catcher in the Rye”, “The Giver” and “Fahrenheit 451” – all banned books.

“One of my greatest memories as a child was listening to my teacher read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. I can still see in my mind’s eye Huck and Jim floating down the mighty Mississippi,” Sion said. ““The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is one of the books that stuck with me and spurred my love of reading.”

Children’s and young adult books are largely the center of questioned materials with parents challenging more frequently than any other group.

“And Tango Makes Three” – a children’s book based on the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who hatched a daughter and raised her together – has been heavily challenged since its publication in 2005 for featuring a same-sex relationship.

Harry Potter, a wildly popular series taking readers of all ages into the magical world of Hogwarts, was banned for representing “anti-family” values, “occult/Satanism”, “religious viewpoints” and “violence”.

The series was proclaimed the most challenged books of all time in 2012 and recently made headlines again after being banned from a Catholic school in Tennessee earlier this month as a “possible threat”, according to Rev. Reehil, a faculty member at St. Edward Catholic school in Nashville.

“The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text,” Reehil continued in an email to teachers at the school.

“It seems crazy that in this day and age that we ban books, but as a society we still can,” Sion said.

The theme of this year’s Banned Books Week proclaims that “censorship leaves us in the dark,” urging readers to “keep the lights on.”

“You look back at the Nazis burning books because they didn’t want people to have their own ideas, they wanted everyone to think the same … so this is a way for you to broaden your horizons,” Sion said.

The banning of literature has historically been used as a way to control groups of people, creating a streamlined way of life and thinking. Nazi Germany and its occupied countries took to burning books in mass that did not push the Nazi agenda and took control of media sources.

“I feel like the freedom of information and imagination should always be there and we should always shine a light on our freedom to do that,” Sion said. “So, here at the Huntsville Public Library, we want you to read a banned book.”

Banned Book Week will be celebrated nation-wide September 22-28, or from now through the end of the month at the Huntsville Public Library.