The Forest Park Public Library joined with the Forest Park Arts Alliance to celebrate the freedom to read and the freedom to use your voice as America marks what is its most consequential Banned Books Week.
The American Library Association tracks efforts across the country to have books removed from public and school libraries. It has been tracking this number for 20 years. Not a surprise that 2022 in on course for the highest number of challenges ever.
The library and arts alliance asked the Forest Park Review to publish a number of essays they collected over the past month from Forest Parkers expressing their views on these essential freedoms which we have largely taken for granted.
Here are six of those essays.
Our bodies, our reading, our selves
By PAT WILLIAMS
Many years ago, in 1975, I graduated high school. As I was preparing to go off to college, my sister (11 years my senior) asked me what I could use, and I asked for a collegiate dictionary. Not only did she give me a collegiate dictionary, but she also gave me a thesaurus, bedding for my dorm and the book Our Bodies, Ourselves. The dictionary and thesaurus were mainstays on my lap whenever I needed to do any writing as it was long before computers were common in homes or dorms.
However, when the school work was over and classmates would gather in my room, we would talk about everything under the sun. The book Our Bodies, Ourselves was always laying around in my room, and often people would pick it up. When they did, what transpired was rich, wonderful discussion about women’s issues. That book was a resource for all the women on my floor of the dorm.
Although some of us had sex education starting in middle school, sex ed was still in its early stages, and many things that were not discussed in classrooms. Our Bodies, Ourselves enriched and filled in the gaps of our education. It was invaluable. We learned about things our mothers didn’t share, or didn’t even know. Our lives were richer and more informed because of that book.
After graduating college, I worked in rural South Dakota. The minister of the church that I attended in town had a wife who was on the school board. One day she was sitting in the gym at our school, and was looking over the book Our Bodies, Ourselves. I shared that it had been a great resource for me for years. She told me the school board was considering banning the book. I showed dismay at the thought of it not being available to other young women in the area and let her know how I felt. I never knew the outcome, but hope that the book was not banned in that district, as it apparently had been in other areas.
Recently I asked my sister how in the world she decided to give me that book at that time. She was working at a local community college, and the nursing staff there highly recommended the book. I told her how much of a resource it was, especially in the dorm room, when young women were finding their way and trying to understand their bodies at a time when it was still taboo.
Of all the “banned books” I have read, Our Bodies, Ourselves has been the most influential to me in understanding myself as a woman. However, every banned book I have ever read has been rich in one way or another. Banning a book seems similar to taking an enriching treasure and locking it away for no one to be able grow from or enjoy.
I use my voice in support of reading
By KAREN ROZMUS
I am a voracious reader — no particular genre. I read science fiction, biographies, fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, contemporary novels and history. I tell my grandchildren that if they like to read, they can learn anything in the world. My grandsons like to show me their new books and have me read with them. My 10-year-old granddaughter, who lives in Pennsylvania, calls me on Facetime every night to read to me for 30 minutes, as she has for the past three years. What precious memories we are creating.
It is hard for me to accept that some narrow-minded (I’m projecting) people would ban a book for whatever reason they may cite. I can’t imagine squelching the stories and verbal pictures created by Steinbeck, Dickens, Hemingway, Vonnegut, Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, London, Doyle, Twain, Harper Lee, J.K. Rowling and so many others. I believe you could just list every author and it would be the length of a book — perhaps a heavy book or even an encyclopedia.
A book can give insight into another’s point of view or provide understanding of another’s life experience totally different from your own. A good book will provide historical knowledge — hopefully the truth of history, both good and bad. A good book will inspire a dreamer, provoke thought, support an opinion, provide an escape to another place or time. A good book will help you grow and expand the library of your mind.
To those who are offended by some written words, I would not chastise you or wish to silence your voice in opposition. I would, however, ask you to accept that others should not be denied what you would deny yourself. I would ask you to “change the channel” and read what is acceptable to you without any interference or prohibition from others. Do you have a favorite book or story? Imagine how you would feel if some unknown person somewhere in the world thought to deny you the opportunity to read your favorite book.
Of course, some books are not appropriate for everyone, especially young readers. If you wish to oversee your child’s reading choices, read with them. The time spent will give so much pleasure and create a wonderful bond. As they grow older, you will have interesting conversations and you will appreciate the person you have helped develop. You will understand their interests by talking about the books they like. You will be happy that you assisted in the development of their intellect and knowledge. Read. Help others to enjoy reading. You can wear the T-shirt that states, “I read, and I know things.” Read. Read some more.
You can learn anything in the world!
Reading, writing and recipes
By ANITA JACKSON-HALL
My beloved 92-year-old mother, Daisy Jackson, passed away nine months ago. An avid reader throughout her life, she instilled that same joy of reading in me and my siblings at an early age. As I process my grief, I have fond memories of the various books Mama lined our home bookshelf with during my childhood. My favorite and most treasured book on the shelf was Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook, published in 1948 and edited by Ruth Berolzheimer.
This cookbook was Mama Daisy’s and our connection to one another. It’s how I earned my training wheels in the kitchen as she passed down her love for baking to me at the age of 10. Mama always said, “You can give someone a recipe, but if they don’t know what to do with it, it’s still just a recipe on a piece of paper.” So through the hundreds of recipes in this bulky book, she taught me reading comprehension, how to follow directions, and math through ingredient measurements. I also learned food science while marveling at the culinary magic of seeing a liquid batter transform into a perfectly baked cake.
I attempted to make cookies, cakes and even doughnuts when Mama gave me free reign of the kitchen to practice following recipes in the cookbook without her assistance. My tiny 10-year-old hands dropped the heavy cookbook and broke the binding. I looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy with a mess of flour on my clothes and the kitchen table, and I was often disappointed that not all the recipes turned out the way they should. However, Mama was patient and said practice was the only way I would learn.
Although the original cookbook was published in 1948, I bought the revised 1976 edition when I became an adult and moved out on my own. My sister owns a copy of the revised edition, too, as Mama also taught her and my niece how to bake and cook many of our favorite family recipes. There are some changes in the new edition but so much of the information and recipes are still relevant today.
Now the updated version sits on the bookshelf in my home. After Mama passed, I found her 1948 version tucked away on a shelf in one of the bedrooms at my childhood home, where my dad still resides. The pages are yellowing, the hardback cover is missing and the loosened binding is a humorous reminder of my clumsy hands.
I still visit home a few days each week to help my sister care for Dad. I bake for him favorite treats that Mama used to make. I use her mixer to whip up a pound cake, or chocolate cake. I use my hands to knead and hug dough to make her famous yeast rolls.
Baking in Mama’s kitchen is my grief therapy as I celebrate her legacy of love flowing from each recipe. I smile, knowing the aromas permeating the walls are her blowing kisses from heaven.
By LESLIE SINGEL
Her very first year of teaching, her hands would not stop shaking at the beginning of each class. The syllabi and worksheets and assignments would flutter through her hands.
She had no experience. Many of the students were older. She tried her best to establish authority by speaking loudly, by maintaining good posture, by rarely smiling. On one dire occasion, she actually had to directly ask for their bare minimum respect. She barely survived. On the last day of class, she celebrated with a good dinner and many drinks.
The next year, she figured it out, as most teachers do: Show them what’s out there. Show them the world in words and let them explore. Then they gravitate toward what they couldn’t learn before. Slavery. Discrimination. War. Bodies of poetry. Bodies in poetry. The ache of human life, captured in words, in images. Like falling down a rabbit hole. It worked. They read it all and wrote about poverty. And nooses on trees. And misogyny. And loving someone for their soul and not their biology.
On the last day of class, a student approaches. He says she reminds him of his favorite teacher from his youth in his home country. The same enthusiasm, the same hungry urgency to help students learn. What a nice thing to say, she says. What subject does he teach? Oh, the student blithely says, he also taught literature but he doesn’t teach anymore. They shot him for it.
Her hands go back to shaking. Every day she teaches, she thinks of this man. What did he hope his students would read? Did he want them to learn enough to become discontented with the life they were handed? Did he lend them books secretly after class in the hopes that they too would be inspired by the wider world? Did he know he had planted seeds even as they raised the gun?
The years pass and she cannot shake him loose. For him, she teaches books from dangerous authors. She teaches books banned in prison. She teaches books banned in the South. For him, she asks to teach banned subjects. She asks to teach what her colleagues in other states are fired for. This nameless, faceless man, cremated and scattered somewhere hot and dry. In the wrong time and place. She wakes up to carry him forward, lecture by lecture, page by page. And as each student reads, she feels a little more at peace.
Never at rest, just at peace.
Meeting someone I admired
By MARY MORITZ
When I was 8, I read a book about Harriet Tubman. I’d only been reading for about a year, but I was madly in love with the new worlds it opened for me. I can remember lying on my bottom bunk bed, so absorbed in a story my whole world drifted away.
My father would knock on my door at times, worried about my isolating, but the last thing I felt was alone: I was with Madeline, “In an old house in Paris covered in vines” (1) one of “twelve little girls in two straight lines” (2) or hanging with Emily Elizabeth and Clifford, her big red dog. I traveled to new worlds voraciously.
When I read Runaway Slave: The Story of Harriet Tubman, by Ann McGovern, I experienced a place I never could have imagined on my own: the South before the Civil War when slavery was thriving. I learned how millions of Black people were kidnapped in Africa, shipped to America and sold as slaves. I read as Harriet learned about the Underground Railway, conductors leading slaves to freedom by following the North Star, and decided that she would be free, and she would return and lead other people to freedom.
This would’ve been around 1966, when Martin Luther King Jr. and his family moved to the South Side of Chicago to show that racism and lack of opportunity wasn’t unique to the South. I lived on the Southwest Side, among people who worshipped every Sunday and sent their kids to Catholic schools. But many of the people in my neighborhood were also very prejudiced. I could feel the hatred they had toward Black people, and I didn’t understand it.
The only exposure I had to the Black community came through Harriet. I admired her. She was strong and brave, and helped people escape horrible, soul-crushing lives. She wasn’t lazy, or ignorant, or selfish, so I never understood the racism that I was hearing. Her people believed in God and sang His praise even while they were being horribly mistreated. I knew Martin Luther King Jr., like Harriet, was trying to free his people, free them from poverty and oppression.
Reading Runaway Slave gave me an opportunity to oppose the racism so prevalent in society simply because Harriet wasn’t like that. Her people weren’t like that. I wasn’t morally superior. I was just a girl who loved to read and, through reading, met people I admired, and learned lessons that otherwise would not have been available to me. I’m forever grateful to Ann McGovern for the lessons she taught me. And I’m grateful for whoever it was that chose Runaway Slave for the Scholastic book sale. It wouldn’t have been an obvious choice in my school, and it changed my life.
1 Madeline, Bemelmans, Ludwig, 1939, Page 1
2 Madeline, Bemelmans, Ludwig, 1939, Page 2
By DAVID HUDSON
Principal: Hey, just a heads up, I’ve gotten a couple of “concerned” emails from parents about your first book selection this year.
Teacher: Shadow and Bone?
Principal: Yeah, they have some concerns about the supernatural elements, etc., conflicting with their religious faith.
Teacher: Okay … um, I’d rather not pull it. It’s a great story and really resonates with this age. They actually read it.
Principal: No, no, I don’t think we should pull it. Maybe just offer an alternative. What about Tuck Everlasting.
Teacher: Probably not, last time I taught that I had parents put together a petition that, since Tuck is actually 107 years old, it is an inappropriate relationship between Tuck and Winnie.
Principal: I … wasn’t around for that one.
Teacher: Oh, it was real.
Principal: How about The Outsiders?
Teacher: Possible, though I’ve gotten pushback before for the abusive elements and the violence.
Principal: Any other suggestions?
Teacher: Well, I would suggest that parents allow their children to think for themselves and let them form their beliefs after being exposed to a variety of sources … and to express to their kids that fiction is just that — fiction.
Principal: If only it were that easy.
Teacher: I remember I had a golden two years where I had the kids read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. That was before some satirical news article from Canada got picked up: out of context on a lot of Christian channels and the books were suddenly devil worship.
Principal: Yeah, and with Rowling’s comments about trans rights a while back, I don’t see that flying.
Teacher: Yeah, it’s a bit frustrating. I don’t agree with her, but the books are still just riveting and amazing. I hope we can find a way past that one. Of course, I’m not a great person to talk to. Those books were my childhood.
Principal: I know … hang on a second. Let’s put Sorcer’s Stone out there as the alternate title.
Teacher: Wait, what?
Principal: Trust me on this.
Principal: Happy Monday, how was your weekend?
Teacher: Not long enough, lol. But what else is new?
Principal: I hear you there. So, good news, Harry Potter has full support as the alternate title.
Teacher: Shut up. From the same parents who objected to Leigh Bardugo because of the magical elements?
Principal: Yep, each and every one of them.
Teacher: I don’t understand … Wait … do you think it’s because of the kerfuffle around Rowling’s comments?
Principal: All I’m saying is, we now have two books on the list and no parents saying their kids can’t at least read one of them.
Teacher: Isn’t this kind of a deal with the devil?
Principal: Or the Wizard.
Teacher: I can live with it.