“Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves.”
Several years ago during a long car ride, I read Cheaper By the Dozen out loud to the family. (My Grade 6 teacher, Mrs. Judd, had read it aloud to our class, and I remembered the book fondly.) I got to the point where the mother in the story talked about a low-class or unrefined person, and I stopped reading.
What?” my kids asked
I silently considered my options. The author, when describing a vulgar, low-class, person, used the word “Eskimo.” I couldn’t in good conscience:
(a) use this word to describe the First Nations group without some explanation about why we don’t use the word anymore, or
(b) let that word be associated forever in my kids’ minds with ill-mannered people.
I took a few minutes to explain the back-story of the word, give it some context, and then I read on. It’s a good book – except for that one word.
I’ll tell you what though, I would NEVER read Huckleberry Finn out loud.
This story came to mind because it’s Freedom to Read Week, a time to open our minds to books and book content. What seems subversive and inappropriate to you might be just what someone else needs. Books like Cheaper By the Dozen and Huckleberry Finn give us valuable historical context, even if we don’t like the history, maybe especially because we don’t like the history. They remind us of where we were and the costs that came with it, so we never visit that place again.
If you read Bannings and Burnings in History, the list includes Galileo, Hemingway, and Shakespeare. My favourite on the list is Beatrix Potter’s A Tale of Peter Rabbit because it contained only “middle-class rabbits.”
Freedom to Read week honours freedom of expression. It encourages us to fire up our brain cells to discern quality reading material for ourselves—for ourselves, but not for others.
So, pick up a volume of Shakespeare, or Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, or even go to the movies to see Les Misérables. Do your bit to honour those spectacular controversial works of art.
Read the Position Statement of Freedom of Expression and Freedom to Read