Censorship?

After a delightful conversation with MaryLynn Gagne, one of the immensely helpful and knowledgeable librarians from the Education branch of the University of Saskatchewan library, and Debbie Pushor, my advisor and partner in this exploration of literature and issues, I took the opportunity to explore some challenged literature for children and young adults. Three books, Giant or Waiting for the Thursday Boat by Robert Munsch, A Coyote Columbus Story by Thomas King and The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron.

Each of these books is a good read with interesting characters, suspenseful plot and colourful language.  All three books have captivating illustrations which enhance the story.  Each is written by an acclaimed author.  The objections to them range from vocabulary choice for Lucky to depiction of God for Giant.  In each case, I see no compelling reason not to have one of these books in my library.  Teachers and teacher librarians should have the tools in place to defend these books.   But do they have the time and energy to do it?

In our discussion we talked about soft censorship, choosing not to buy a book for a library based on its content and not its quality.  I thought I’d take a little peak around the catalogues of my division and see if any of these books were in them.  Very non-scientific search.  The catalogues do show that we have copies of Harry Potter, also a challenged series, some Giant, no Lucky (although this is a very new book and may not be there yet), no Coyote Columbus (although I’m not sure with Columbus in the title if TLs and teachers would realize its relevance to Canada, even with Cartier on the final page). I did also look for “And Tango makes Three” and “Heather has two Mommies” which were not available. By this time, I was somewhat relieved to see that we do have copies of “Stitches”.

So unscientifically, is soft censorship at work?  Too hard to say.  We have such limited funding and the choices that TLs make are limited by funds and curriculum demands.  But it is worth asking the question, why don’t we have “And Tango makes Three” or “A Coyote Columbus Story” or “the Higher Power of Lucky”? Would I put them in my library with the competing demands on funding?  I don’t know.

I am taking on the role of librarian at my church library.  I am faced with a collection which is intended to meet the needs of a particular community.  How do I approach the building and weeding of the collection?  The woman who has been at the helm of the library collection development has done a terrific job.  She has chosen excellent fiction for young adults and children.  We are faced with limited space and budget, some aging items, dated items, politically-incorrect and culturally insensitive items.  Which do we keep?  Which do we weed?  How does freedom to read impact on a collection which has such a specific audience and purpose?

I decided to weed a book called “The White Feather”.  It was an older piece of historical fiction set in the American mid-west.  The portrayal of aboriginal peoples was less than accurate and certainly reflected the time period of the author.  If I had endless space and funds, I might keep it as a reminder of how far we have come and what we need to prevent but shelf space and a limited number of other titles to counter the portrayal and I  deemed it not acceptable.  Censorship? Maybe.

I decided to keep the “Little House” series.  It is also a portrayal of settling the American mid-west.  It also has negative and stereotyped depictions of aboriginal North Americans.  Why keep it?  It is well-written and engaging.  I will need to counter it with some good literature with more positive depictions.  Cultural insensitivity?  Maybe.

No easy task to manage a library collection.  We need to be careful to be culturally sensitive and to keep as diverse a collection as possible.  So here is my question – I know I have the odd reader from my home community – have you read these books?  Would you add them to your collection?  Why or Why not?  Feel free to leave a comment.

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1 Comment

Filed under children's lit, curriculum, library, literacy

One response to “Censorship?

  1. Pingback: Censorship? Part Two « What Counts!

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