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Banned Book Week: "Freedom to Read" Still Under Attack in MO

Last year, 566 books were reported as challenged for possible bans from libraries, schools and universities. (AdobeStock)
Last year, 566 books were reported as challenged for possible bans from libraries, schools and universities. (AdobeStock)
September 30, 2020

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Bookworms and literature buffs in Missouri are celebrating freedom of choice -- of reading materials -- and denouncing attacks on what they say is their First Amendment right to read. This is Banned Books Week, spotlighting attempts to censor books.

More than 600 books, films and other literary materials were targeted for censorship in 2019, a 14% increase from the previous year.

Matt King, an elementary library media specialist and Missouri delegate to the American Association of School Librarians, said many books challenged in recent years feature content about people who identify as LGBTQIA.

"But also, some books are banned for encouraging disruptive behavior, like Captain Underpants, or referring to magic and witchcraft, like Harry Potter," he said. "There's a plethora of books that have been banned for various reasons. Even Dr. Seuss books have been banned."

In this year's Missouri Legislature, House Bill 2044 would empower parental library review boards to remove what they deem "age-inappropriate sexual material" from public libraries. Failure to comply could mean a misdemeanor charge, a fine of up to $500 or up to a year in jail. However, no action has been taken on the bill since May.

Two-thirds of censorship challenges occur in public libraries, followed by schools.

Kirsten Shaw, an elementary librarian and president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians, said it's important to understand that not every book is the best choice for every student -- but for every book, there is a student for whom it is a good choice. She said kids need stories that act as mirrors - and windows.

"Our kids should see themselves reflected in what they're reading," she said, "but then, they should also be looking into other perspectives, looking into others' lives as well, to build that empathy."

Shaw contended it should be up to a parent to decide if material is appropriate for their child, not the community. She also noted that kids often self-censor without intervention.

"Adults like to step in, because we're trying to protect, but sometimes it's a little heavy-handed," she said. "So I think we should trust kids to be able to say on their own that, 'This is not for me, or I'm not ready for this.'"

More information on Banned Books Week is online at http://www.ala.org, and the text of HB 2044 is at house.mo.gov.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MO