Alarmed at recent record-breaking efforts to censor certain books and diverse voices, local booksellers are working together this week to call attention to the problem.
And to try to make that important conversation “fun.”
For the first Cape and Islands Banned Book Hunt, staff at seven bookstores have been hiding dozens of wrapped books — ones that have been or are in danger of being taken from school and public library shelves — in outdoor places.
One set of books was hidden Sunday, as the national Banned Book Week began, and locations are all outdoors. Look in places like beaches, parks or wherever the community might gather, according to hints from Jessica Devin, co-owner of Brewster Book Store who started what she hopes will be a family-oriented project.
Another set of books will be hidden mid-week to catch the end of the observance that ends Saturday, she said. There will be a total of up to 75 books — donated by the stores and by Penguin Random House publishers — that are out there for the finding.
“It seems historically the ones that tend to get banned the most are ones that might end up In school libraries, so more than not, they are books that you might see in middle schools or high schools,” Devin said about the books the stores have been hiding. “But who knew Dr. Seuss has been banned? So there are books that younger people might enjoy that are hidden as well.”
Devin said she came up with the plan because she’s a strong believer in people having the freedom to choose what they read. And she’s a fan of interactive family fun related to reading, like the popular StoryWalks that set up pages of a book along an outdoor path to follow.
While her bookstore and others have long observed Banned Book Week in various ways, Devin said she wanted something bigger in the community this year after being alarmed at new statistics that show attempts to ban books were higher in 2021 than in a generation.
“People should have a choice in reading, and the beautiful thing is we have libraries, we have used bookstores, we have thrift stores where people can access books,” she said. “I think it becomes really dangerous when people start trying to censor what people read.
“From my perspective, reading is a great way for people to explore and learn and open windows that they might not normally have access to — reading about people similar to themselves or people different from themselves — and the moment we start censoring what people are able to access, we're shutting windows.”
How efforts to ban books has grown
Every year, Banned Books Week highlights the American Library Association’s Top-10 Most Challenged Books from the previous year. The 2022 list, the booksellers noted in announcing the hunt, again includes titles that are by Black or LGBTQIA2S+ persons and address racism, racial justice and LGBTQIA2S+ stories.
The library association tracked 729 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2021, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. Those are the highest figures since tracking began more than 20 years ago, Banned Book Week observers have said.
Other local bookstores participating in the Cape and Islands hunt include Belonging Books of Cape Cod, which will have a pop-up shop Sunday at the Love Local Fest at Aselton Park in Hyannis; Edgartown Books in Edgartown; Titcomb's Bookshop in East Sandwich; Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore and Children's Annex, and Yellow Umbrella Books, both in Chatham; and Sea Howl Bookshop in Orleans.
Each store is responsible for its own part of the hunt and may give clues this week via social media.
“Independent bookstores consider the freedom to read to be a cornerstone of our mission,” the local bookstores said in a joint statement. “As booksellers, we believe in protecting the rights of readers and the importance of representation in books. We condemn the current wave of book banning in schools and libraries as threats to both the First and 14th Amendments.”
Devin said supporters hope to expand the community involvement next year to include other stores and possibly libraries, and to make the book hunt an annual event.
Share a book, or ban it?
This year, individual Cape and Islands stores also have displays set up related to banned books, and are expected to offer a range of activities during the week. Prizes are offered to people who find the hidden books, ranging from stickers to the chance to get an advance copy of a book not yet published, Devin said.
But winning a prize isn’t the higher purpose. “Those who find a book are encouraged to read and enjoy it, share it with a friend or family member, or give it to a local school,” the booksellers said in announcing the hunt. “Join us during Banned Books Week to condemn book banning, protect the freedom to read, and celebrate the ways books unite us!” The national Banned Books Week slogan is "Books unite us. Censorship divides us."
Calls for books to be banned — usually because of content — are described as "challenges," and more often are made to school libraries. So, Devin said, more of the hidden books are geared to the age group affected by people’s efforts to remove them from circulation.
The 10-most challenged books of 2021, according to the library association were: “Gender Queer,” by Maia Kobabe; “Lawn Boy,” by Jonathan Evison; “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson; “Out of Darkness,” by Ashley Hope Perez; “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas; “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie; “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” by Jesse Andrews; “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison; “This Book Is Gay,” by Juno Dawson; and “Beyond Magenta,” by Susan Kuklin.
The 2020 list also included classics “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men,” while among those on the 2019 were “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the “Harry Potter” series.
Contact Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @KathiSDCCT.
Gain access to premium Cape Cod Times content by subscribing.
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Banned Books Week: Cape Cod, Islands stores set up scavenger hunt