"If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind." ~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Because I agree with him!

'Wowie, wow, wow': Words too important to be banned
By Sylvester Brown Jr.

If not for Moses, Noah, Jughead Jones, Spider-Man and Richard Wright, I may have turned down Sarah Beaman-Jones' invitation.Beaman-Jones heads up LIFT: Missouri's Literacy Resource Center. She recently sent me an e-mail asking if I would be a "guest reader" for her group's "Celebrating Readers' Rights" Dec. 8 event. The reading was organized to bring attention to issues such as "intellectual freedom," censorship and banned books in the United States."Censorship?" What is this, Saudi Arabia? I thought banning books in this country went out with burning witches at the stake.Apparently, I'm wrong. Each year the American Library Association releases a list of "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books." The list includes high-profile adult and children's book authors like J.K. Rowling, Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, Kurt Vonnegut, Lois Lowry and Judy Blume.
Some libraries and schools use this list when stocking shelves or compiling curricula.Beaman-Jones' organization opposes book censorship. It's a "violation of intellectual freedom," her letter explained. As literacy educators and advocates, she added, we must affirm the "importance of free speech and education as a human right."Ditto! Count me in, I wrote back.I'm not the sharpest crayon in the box but, thank God, I fell in love with reading at an early age. Whatever success I enjoy today, is directly correlated with my fascination with the printed word.When I was a child, Mama forced Bible stories on her 11 kids. My imagination was sparked by tales of prophets parting the sea, slaying giants, hanging out unscathed in lion's dens and feeding masses with unending quantities of magical fish and bread.The love affair continued when I was introduced to comic books. Back in the day, 10 cents brought fabulous and funny adventures into my poverty-filled world. In my mind, I could leap tall buildings in a single bound, "Flame on," "Hulk out" or hang out with Archie, Betty and Veronica at Riverdale High.For me as a young man, desperately ignorant of his own history, Alex Haley's "Autobiography of Malcolm X," Richard Wright's "Native Son" and Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" helped fill the void of the complicated but rich "black experience" I knew little about. The audacious idea to write for a living was inspired by these gifted black authors.Richard Wright's book "Black Boy" is on the banned book list, as well as Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird."Maggie Dyer, the literacy coordinator with LIFT, explained why:"The top three reasons books make the list are because some find them sexually explicit, or they have offensive language or they're unsuitable for young readers." Most people who challenge books "have good intentions," Dyer said."They're concerned with protecting children. That's good, but where does it stop?" Dyer asked. "When a book is challenged or removed from a library, that's a voice that may not be heard." The ALA puts out the list based on the number of letters challenging books it receives. The organization analyzes, reviews and judges the merits of the complaints. Dyer takes exception to what some deem "unsuitable." For instance, she said, the graphic nature of "Black Boy" may indeed turn off a group or an individual but for someone who may have shared my life experience, the book could be the key to literary advancement."Schools may choose books for students that have to do with curriculum but one way to become a better reader is being able to choose a book that may not be rosy, but messy — something that mirrors their life experience."Throughout our history, people have tried to suppress intellectual freedom. We support the belief that ideas should be allowed to be written about, read and discussed — with criticism — but without restrictions." Libraries I visit have sections marked "adults," "young adults" and "young readers." Why isn't this enough to stop kids from getting their hands on books that aren't age-appropriate? I asked Dyer.It is, in most cases, she explained. The ALA publishes the list but leaves the decision to stock or not stock books up to individual libraries and educational institutions. Some abide by the list, others don't. The ALA does not advocate banning challenged books.That's a good thing. Several of the banned or "challenged" books are my daughters' favorites. Lexi, 13, has read the Harry Potter series and "The Giver" by Lois Lowry and other books on the list. I'm not sure who likes Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones series more, my little one, Kyra, who is 7, or her parents. Imagine my surprise when I saw Park's name on the list. Dyer said people say Park's character encourages "disobedience," uses words like "stupid" and "dumb" and takes liberties with traditional spelling. Maybe so, but in the words of Junie B., "Wowie, wow, wow," does Kyra really enjoy those books.Which gets back to my point about the power of reading. To be honest, Lexi has gotten her hands on a book or two that raised age-appropriateness questions. But the spark in her eye when she discusses books with her parents or her unquenchable appetite for more literature minimized my fears. I'm not saying we should stack libraries with any old book and let kids go willy-nilly. I'm saying that parental guidance, trained librarians and books separated by age-appropriateness in schools and libraries should override banishment.Other regional groups such as the Literacy Roundtable and Literacy for Social Justice Teacher Research Group are involved with the readers' rights event next month. The event is necessary, Dyer said, because there are people like me, who aren't aware that books are still banned in this country.The e-mail asking that I become a "guest reader" said I'll be among librarians, "literary educators" and advocates ready to educate the community, take a stand for "free speech" and fight "censorship."There's a noble, heroic resonance to those words. Helping to part the waters of misunderstanding, tackle the giant of censorship, helping people sail up, up and away from narrow-minded restrictions ... Reminds me of something I read in a book.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

We love Fall!

The weather has been perfect for playing football outside!

And for taking a rest in the leaves!

Then its time for some tree climbing!

Later that night, Trick or Treating! And playing with glow sticks!

After coming down from last night's sugar high, its off to enjoy some time with Mimi!
Look at those two in their shades! Are they cool or what!