Saturday, September 26, 2009

On libraries, banned books, and a few other favorite topics.

With Banned Book Week starting next Monday, September 26th, I'm getting very excited about celebrating controversial books! I have a long-term goal of reading all 100 of the most challenged books; it's actually an elusive goal, as the list changes yearly. (I've only read 17 of this year's -- pathetic!) Take a look at the list and see how many you've read!

The practices of banning and challenging books are fascinating. While I don't believe in censorship, and usually think a child can instinctively select a book appropriate for them, it's a tricky thing that needs to be addressed on a community-by community basis.

In the area of the Pacific Northwest where I attended college, the population was split between the university students -- many of whom were from out the area and drawn by the school's very progressive politics -- and locals whose families had often depended on the logging industry for generations. The Lorax was viewed as too controversial for many classrooms in the area because its ethics questioned the livelihood of many children's parents. However, should The Lorax be pulled from the school libraries or from libraries in the community? And this is a book which is usually considered inoffensive and even positive in other communities -- what about books that really upset people, like the perennially challenged And Tango Makes Three and The Perks of Being a Wallflower? (I love both of these books.) Could the problem be solved by reshelving them in a different part of the library, or labeling the spine with some sort of age recommendation? How do children's librarians deal with these challenges? How does it feel to have a book you've written challenged by a parent and subsequently banned from a library? Our recent guest Jo Knowles shares her thoughts on being a challenged author at her blog.

Speaking of libraries and librarians, I just finished a YA fantasy novel called Libyrinth, in which a cavernous library holds the secrets of a long-dead civilization (and where the books speak to the protagonist, Haly). It's made me think about magical libraries, both real and imaginary. There's the gigantic library of the Clayr in Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy, which contains secret rooms imprisoning horrific monsters and winding passages down which librarians vanish. In Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners," a TV show within the short story stars the Free People's World-Tree Library; the stacks are maintained by pirate, fairy, and vampire librarians. In Neil Gaiman's movie masterpiece Mirrormask (say that five times fast), books flutter their pages like wings and glide around the room -- allowing main character Helena to hitch a ride across town. Speaking of Mr. G, his real-life library could give these fantasy world libraries a run for their money!

A while back we linked to an article in The Guardian (via Shelf Awareness) which asked,
"Which are the best books that never existed?" Some children's lit-related suggestions that came up in Shelf Awareness were The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern, Inkspell by Fenoglio, and Tom Riddle's diary from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. What other books/texts do you wish were real? Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You? The Never-Ending Story? The Gossip Girl website? The Marauders' Map?
So here's a variation on that theme: what are the best libraries that never existed? (I vote for Sarah Stewart and David Small's The Library.) TV, movies, and books are all up for grabs. Alternatively, are there real-life libraries that you covet?

We could all take a page (har har) from "the brightest witch of her age," Hermione Granger: "When in doubt, go to the library." And while you're there, why not check out a banned book or two?

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