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A few weeks back, I wrote about the absurd effort to ban Shel Silverstein in Florida. (The Banned Book That Every Child Should Read). Well, The Nonlinear Life gets results! A CBS News poll found soon after that 85 percent of Americans say they don’t believe books should be banned from schools for containing political ideas they disagree with. Eighty-seven percent say they don’t support banning books for discussing slavery or race.
Congratulations, book banners; you've done what no one else in the country can do: Unite the United States. Eighty-seven percent of Americans don’t agree on anything!
But apparently, not everyone agrees. A report from PEN America this month found that 1,145 unique books were targeted between July 2021 and March 2022, representing 845 authors. The challenges took place in 86 school districts in 26 states covering 2 million students. One such school in Walton County, Florida, just released a list of a dozen newly banned books, including “everyone’s favorite baby shower gift,” Everywhere Babies, written by Susan Meyers and illustrated by Marla Frazee.
As the startled author told the Washington Post last week: “It’s so odd — I think there’s one illustration they don’t like, where it’s two men. But how do they see this, that any time a man puts his arm on another man’s shoulder, it means they’re gay? It doesn’t seem obvious to me.”
The illustrator added:
But the more hopeful news is that a counteroffensive has begun, led by the most credible warriors of all: librarians. Libraries across the country have begun hosting banned book events, like this one last week in Perry, Iowa. The Stratford Library in Connecticut, in conjunction with the UNESCO Center for Global Friendship, also held a banned book event “to celebrate the right to read” in honor of World Book Day over the weekend.
But it was my local institution, the storied Brooklyn Public Library, that came up with the ultimate coup de gras. Last week, the library announced that anyone in the United States between the ages of 13 and 21 can apply for a free library ecard that gives access to 350,000 ebooks and 200,000 audiobooks. Normally these cards cost $50 for non-residents.
“Access to information is the great promise upon which public libraries were founded,” the library’s president, Linda Johnson, said. “We cannot sit idly by while books rejected by a few are removed from the library shelves for all.”
Anyone utilizing their ecard will also be connected with the library’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council, which provides resources to fight back against censorship and book challenges. Teens can apply for their card by emailing BooksUnbanned@bklynlibrary.org or messaging their teen-run Instagram account, @bklynfuture.
For librarians, I can’t help but wonder whether this effort might be something of a response to one of Shel Silverstein’s more wicked poems, Overdue. In it, a grizzled, older man clings to a beloved book.
Pay the fine, he wonders? Turn it in? Hide it again?
Whatever you do, Dear Reader, trust librarians. They’ve got your back.
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cover image ©PM Images