Sep. 30—Banned Books Week is an opportunity to celebrate the freedom to read and the freedom to express ideas, no matter how uncomfortable or unpopular they might be. It honors a fundamental American right that is enshrined in the First Amendment.
Parents maintain the right to monitor what materials their own children are exposed to, but that's where it should end. No one should try to get books and other materials eliminated from school libraries, public libraries and other places where the freedom of expression is guaranteed ... yet here we are, year after year, looking at lists of books that have been challenged or outright banned.
As has become the trend in recent years, the American Library Association's top 10 banned or challenged books of 2020 heavily featured LGBTQ+ content, which those in opposition said conflicted with religion or didn't reflect certain values.
There also was a shift in 2020 toward attempts to ban or challenge books with content about racial justice issues and books that featured Black or Indigenous stories. Why are we so afraid of these topics? Is it because we are squeamish about the self-reflection they require? Or do we believe that the issues raised by these books will go away if we restrict who has access to them? Instead of fearing them, we should be embracing these printed materials as a way to deepen our understanding of one another, to try to mend fissures in our divided society.
Another critical role of books is to share sometimes difficult topics with children and young adults in a digestible way. Youths who grow up learning about the tough issues faced by those around them have a better opportunity to develop empathy and kindness — and maybe even find solutions to address some of these issues.
Said Jason Reynolds, the author of several frequently challenged books and the honorary chair of this year's Banned Books Week: "I think books for young audiences are banned most often because many adults (in their infinite fear) believe it's better to shield young people than to help young people grow to become shields for others."
That's a perspective everyone can adopt. How much stronger would a community be if people, instead of marginalizing others, helped to shield others from harm and injustice?
This week, pick up a banned or challenged book. Read it. Learn about people. Share what you've learned with others. And then commit to making the world a little bit better — all because of the freedom to read that has been granted to you.