Banned Books Week has been celebrated since 1982 when a coalition of organizations responded to a surge in book challenges by instituting an annual week which highlights the value of free and open access to information. In years past, we, along with many other libraries and book-loving groups, have used this week to highlight some of the great books that have been banned and challenged throughout history. Often, we look back and think about how unbelievable it is that anyone would challenge such great works as The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird but this year, we’d like to reframe this momentous week.
The Library believes it is your right to choose the books you and your family read and we are committed to ensuring you have a diversity of viewpoints and identities from which to choose. Seeing a bit of yourself in a book can be a powerful thing. The first time my kids encountered a family like ours in a book, they were so excited. It validated the challenging experiences we had been through as a family and made them feel less alone in the world. Not only that, stepping into the shoes of someone from a different walk of life while you’re reading can teach you things about the world of which you may have been unaware and encourage empathy and kindness toward others. And let’s face it, we could all use more empathy and kindness these days.
What was a time when representation in books was important to you? We encourage you to think about a moment when this mattered for you. We posed that very question to our PDL family and these are some of the responses we got:
“Two is Enough by Janna Matthies is an incredible book I read to my son where he can see different kinds of families represented. So many children’s books feature two parent families, and it’s been so important to him to see single parent families that look like ours.” ~Sarah, Adult Services Librarian
“I like Super Max’s Ultimate Try by Heather E. Robyn because it features young girls in contact sports, which very rarely gets representation.” ~Lily, Lab Wizard
“A time when representation in books was important to me was when I watched women throughout the world lose their right to an education.” ~Heather, Community Relations Specialist
“I read Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck about the time I looked in the mirror and realized I was developing my Mother’s old chicken neck. She seemed to be looking in the same mirror. And she was looking at larger purses just as I was upsizing so I could carry reading glasses, arthritis meds, an extra set of keys (incase I lost mine) and crayons for my grandchildren. Her sense of humor made me laugh out loud. It didn’t offer a darn thing for fixing any of the aging processes, but I didn’t really care after experiencing it through her funny eyes.” ~Susie, Page
“Sari-Sari Summer was a hit for my family this year. I lived in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer, and this book helped me share about my experiences with my children. They got to see unique and beautiful aspects of Filipino culture illustrated in the heartwarming story of a young girl who helps her grandmother for the summer.” ~Shauna, Library Director
“I’d probably go with El Deafo, which was incredibly meaningful to Hazel. They’d never seen any good books about people with hearing aids before, and loved it so much they took it to bed with them for a while.” ~Katy, Adult Services Librarian
“The book We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu was a really important book to me. Reading about Simu’s life experiences really resonated with me and allowed me to feel seen and heard.” ~Zach, Human Resources
“As a Speech-Language Pathologist in the school setting, I have used literature to address language goals. It has been my experience that when students see themselves in literature, they are more inclined to attend to the story and embrace the notion of reading for pleasure. Authors that represent their age, race, religion, or interests tell a story that connects with our students in ways that are difficult to measure. I can assure you when a student sees a connection with an author they are very likely to seek out their next book. My students present with language delays that also impact their reading comprehension. These works provide the students with extra motivation to understand the content.” ~Jean, Library Board Member
“My kids were floored when we listened to The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead in the car one day. Our family is pretty unique and I think up until that point, they felt like freaks! I still get choked up thinking about how excited they were.” ~Jessica, Youth Services Librarian
“I’ve always remembered the moment that I found out that the Marvel superhero, Hawkeye, had a hearing loss and often wore a hearing aid. I wore hearing aids in both my ears from ages 5-17, and without even realizing it, I had never seen someone who looked like me. I rushed to my library the next day to check out Matt Fraction’s run of the Hawkeye comics, and I experienced an emotional catharsis I didn’t even know I needed. I definitely wouldn’t call myself a Marvel fan these days, but that is a reading experience I will always treasure.” ~Colleen, Teen Services Librarian