Short and sweet, that’s February. As winter months go, it finishes early and starts to hint at spring with its longer days and – sometimes – milder weather. No matter what the groundhog predicts (decisions were split amongst Canada’s groundhogs with Shubenacadie Sam and Wiarton Willie both predicting a quick end, but Balzac Billy and Fred la Marmotte predicted at least 6 more weeks of winter) February feels like winter’s end is right around the corner.
Despite its length, February is jam packed with special days, big and small (did you know February 3rd is Elmo’s Birthday?). February is Black History Month, International Friendship Month (I don’t think this means you have to celebrate your international friends, although if it does, I’m looking at you Isabelle) and February 15th is National Flag Day here in Canada. Importantly for us here at Books & Co, February boasts loads of author birthdays including Laura Ingalls Wilder, my favorite person born on February 7 (my mom remains my favorite person born on February 6 despite her shocking lack of published works).
And February also marks the beginning of Freedom to Read week, which runs from February 26 to March 3rd this year. Freedom to Read week reminds us that even in Canada, one of the freest and most democratic nations in the world, books are still challenged at libraries and in schools every year. Books by famous and acclaimed Canadian authors including Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Margaret Laurence and W.P. Kinsella have all had people call for their removal from schools and libraries. Internationally renowned books like the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird and children’s literature classic Bridge to Terabithia have also been challenged in recent years.
A lot can be lost if book bans are implemented and books are pulled from shelves. Reading something does not mean you will agree with it and trying to limit exposure to books with content not universally agreed to be “good” or “moral” will result in there being very few books around. Rather than limit books with “questionable” content, we should be reading –and teaching our children to read – critically. We need to be willing to discuss the parts of literature that make us uncomfortable and accept the right of others to read whatever they wish.
Intellectual freedom and the freedom to read are fundamental elements in a free society. Without the freedom to read what we wish, how can we truly form our own opinions about important social and political issues? I’m not suggesting that everyone has to read things that disagree with their established opinions, but we should all have the right to do so if we wish.
So, why not read a previously banned or challenged book this month? Pick up The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or The Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling or even American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
For a more complete list of the requests made for books to be removed from schools and libraries in Canada, please visit the Freedom to Read website http://freedomtoread.ca/censorship_in_canada/challenged_books.asp