A few words today about the Freedom to Read Foundation, an offshoot of the ALA established in 1969. It’s exciting to look at the Foundation’s history, since the list of legal cases they’ve helped fund includes this one:
All the cases have involved publications of some sort — books, magazines, newspapers, comic books, film, and television. One case involved a student suing a school board because it had voted to remove several books from all the secondary school libraries throughout a single district: “Soul on Ice, A Hero Ain’t Nothing But a Sandwich, The Fixer, Go Ask Alice, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers, Black Boy, Laughing Boy, and The Naked Ape” (Pico v. Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26, 1978). Dismissed librarians, state obscenity laws, school boards’ actions, deportations, bookstores and libraries subpoenaed for patron usage data — if you want to know what the fight for intellectual freedom looks like, read through these cases.
As I promised yesterday, here are just a few of the reasons provided in book challenges/bans. Evidently there’s a lot to fear from books:
And now, a salute to Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (1974). Upon publication, it was challenged almost immediately (sexual content, religious viewpoint, nudity, violence), and regularly appeared on ALA’s top-ten list until 2009. Cormier has written a dark, unhappy story of Jerry, a teen caught in a political struggle with painfully low stakes. Brother Leon, Acting Head of an all-boys Catholic school, decides he wants to double last year’s candy sales (to prove he deserves the job for real), so he recruits Archie, leader of the school’s secret society, to help him pressure the other students. Jerry decides not to sell any candy at all, and his stubbornness nearly gets him killed in a fist fight. Yet there’s a happy ending for everyone else: Brother Leon becomes official Head of School and Archie isn’t punished for bullying. A grim message about the abuse of power, so well written you want to cry.
A quick shout-out to Little Free Libraries, who are working to improve access to books (and literacy) in underserved neighborhoods.