Saturday, March 2, 2013

Freedom to Read Week With Lesley Livingston

I’m one of those people who has—thankfully, blissfully—never actually experienced the kind of censorship that Freedom to Read Week is designed to draw attention to. I’ve never had anyone tell me I couldn’t read something. I’ve never had a book banned in my school. I’ve never not had the opportunity to pick up whatever collection of words on a page I fancied and cram them into my face at will.

I can’t, in all honesty, imagine what that is like.

Except that the very thought gives me the cold sweats.

Reading IS freedom. It is the unleashing of imagination in its purest form. Both on the writer’s end and on the reader’s. It is an act of creation doubled. Why would anyone seek to deny that experience to anyone else? Well, okay. I know why. Obviously. It’s because of that very power. I know that there are people in the world who see that kind of freedom as a dangerous, provocative thing. That if you give a young mind access to ideas that you yourself don’t agree with or believe in, then that young mind is potentially susceptible to influence by those ideas. I know that there are people who are to terrified to set forth the ideas they cherish alongside those that they may not and say to a young reader “Make your own choices. Come to your own conclusions.” People who are afraid, deep down, that the things they read—the things they want to be right—aren’t. Or maybe just aren’t right for some. I know that those people cloak their fear behind the censorial battle cry of Mrs. Lovejoy’s shrill: “Won’t someone please think of the children?!”

Censorship doesn’t do that. It doesn’t think of the children. It just tries to think for them.

It takes something very powerful to cause the kind of tooth-snapping, snarly, mouth-foamy reactions I’ve seen and heard and read (ha!) about when it comes to book banning. And that power is always strengthened and secretly reinforced in the face of that sort of thing—which is, at least, gratifying.

Do I think there are things that children shouldn’t read? Of course. There are subject- and age-appropriate considerations to be taken into consideration, always. And those are choices that parents and guardians should be making with—with not for—their children. Are there things I wish children wouldn’t read? Absolutely. But do I think that decision should be left up to a committee that, more likely than not, has decided some book has the wrong words or the wrong ideas or the wrong message in it? No. I do not.

Type Books Challenged Books Display - Toronto, ON

As a Canadian, as the child of reasonable parents, and as the product of an education system and a government that—when I was growing up, at least—trusted me to find my way both in and out of the library, I count myself extremely lucky to have been deprived of this all too common experience. Book banning and censorship is not a part of my formative makeup. I wish that every kid who grows up to love—or hate, or be utterly indifferent to—books, could say the same. Things like Freedom to Read Week helps. And even if I have no first hand experience, I’m happy and proud to support it with my voice. Thanks Amy for giving me the opportunity to do so! READ ON!

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