by: Ciara Drummond

(Unsplash, Henry Be)

I have not always been a very big reader. When I was young, my mother would read different books to me, mostly to keep me from becoming an iPad kid. Together, we read the Harry Potter, Dork Diaries and Unwanted series, the entire Dr. Seuss collection, and several of the Grimm Fairy Tales (which my mother probably shouldn’t have let me read). But the second I was stuck finding media by myself, my love for reading was forgotten, and the books collected dust on the shelf. 

That was until the sixth grade, until my babysitter’s daughter had a collection of books in her room. While we were playing with dolls, I noticed Red Queen, a book with an elaborate crown on the cover. I had begged my babysitter’s daughter to let me take the book, not caring what it was and only wanting to read about cool, badass princesses. She said yes, and a reader was reborn. Red Queen was most definitely not meant for someone as young as I was, but my problem with most books targeted at middle-grade girls was they simply did not interest me. I found them too childish and boring. They typically followed the same plot structure where the girls would hit puberty and start liking boys. I didn’t want to read about girls my age experiencing normal and regular everyday things. I wanted to see girls riding dragons and learning how to sword fight, but it was so difficult to find any fantastical middle-grade books that starred girls doing grand things, so when I found Red Queen, I was desperate to find more books like it. Red Queen turned into Shatter me, then Frost, then Ash Princess, and many more. 

Should I have read Red Queen, a book about overthrowing the government and depicting a ridiculous amount of murder, at 11? 

Probably not. 

But without it, I would not have enjoyed reading again and without my love for reading, I would have most likely not attended university. 

This is an example of how the media my younger self consumed was not in any way censored. Literally, I was watching Game of Thrones with my mom at ten years old. Due to this, I have never really understood why some parents fight so hard to ensure that not only their child, but other people’s children do not consume certain media at certain ages. This is why I, as an adult, am now an advocate against book banning and censorship. 

Book banning is the act of restricting or removing books from public places, such as schools or libraries, by an organisation with authority, such as the government. This is typically done to keep certain ideas or information suppressed. For example, in the United States, where book banning has become a growing issue, parents have requested school boards ban the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rolling from schools because they claim it depicts demonic teachings (Jodi Wilgoren, New York Times). 

Book banning and censorship have a very long history connected to oppression. For example, starting in 1933 Nazi Germany, books were burned in mass because they were “un-German”, and a blacklist of books, which were mostly Jewish, leftist, and liberal works, was created for the Nazi to hunt for when raiding bookstores, libraries, and publishing houses. This fueled a state-wide censorship as a form of control over culture, acting as a symbol of Nazi suppression (Holocaust Encyclopedia). 

Censorship is required for a government to maintain its hold over those who don’t align with their view points. For example, in Canada, under the Indian Act, Indigenous communities were outlawed from forming political organisations. This meant that they were not allowed to form organisations to fight for their rights, working effectively to restrict them from speaking out against the atrocities committed to them (Bob Joseph, 21 Things You May Not Have Known About The Indian Act). 

Today, we mostly hear about book banning in Illinois or Florida in the United States, but book banning is still an issue we have to worry about in Canada. For example, an Ontario school board restricted access to Salma Writes a Book by Danny Ramadan in their schools library. This children’s book is about a non-white immigrant learning how to navigate her new life in Canada after moving from Syria. The school board had made it a requirement that students request Ramadan’s book specifically and that the librarians had to provide “a Catholic understanding of the book” before the student would be allowed to read the book (Jessica Wong, CBC News). 

In my opinion, book banning is a threat to education for several major reasons:

Almost all of the current books that are being banned or suggested for removal are books highlighting queer or BIPOC stories or history. Pro-book-banners claim that queer-led stories are obscene or inappropriate for children and teens in highschool. This rhetoric is based on the idea that being queer is inherently sexual and dirty, with many believing queerness is being shoved down “normal”, cisgender, straight individuals’ throats. Some believe that by reading queer media, it will somehow turn them gay. Therefore, queer books must be removed to protect their children. Not only is this homophobic and transphobic, but it is also based on fallacies. The restriction of queer or BIPOC stories allow current social prejudices to only gain strength. 

The Canadian government is in charge of education and is hence in control of the books being banned. By restricting Queer, BIPOC, or politically alternative books, the government is censoring and in some cases suppressing certain groups. A huge example of this is censorship of David A. Robertson’s work. Robertson is a Cree author who writes books about his culture, with one of his teen targeted stories depicting the horrors of residential schools. I argue that by suppressing work like Robertson’s, the government is contributing to the silencing of Indigenous people when they are speaking out about the government’s oppression of Indigenous peoples. Many Canadians have no idea what the Indian Act, Residential schools, or the 60’s scoop are, and by silencing Indigenous voices, they contradict truth and reconciliation for the Indigenous peoples.

Reading diverse literature is important for children. It teaches them to be empathetic to groups that they are not a part of and teaches building blocks for understanding societal issues. For some children, they will live in the same place with the same group of people their entire lives. By introducing a diverse read catalogue, children get the opportunity to challenge their way of thinking in a safe environment while learning about non-stereotyped and good stories about different people. While simply learning about another group isn’t going to solve racism, sexism, etc., it is the first step. The earlier an individual attempts to educate themselves, the easier it is to unlearn their prejudice. 

Furthermore, representation and certain themes within books are important. For many groups of people, especially non-white, straight, or cis people, they struggle to find a singular character in media that they feel represents them. Restricting these books takes away education that an individual might want about their own identities and promotes the idea that minorities are somehow too mature for children to talk about. 

But shouldn’t some things be censored?

I believe no. There are some things that I don’t think children should be reading. There are things I don’t think anyone should read. For example, I think books that promote purity culture, a practice in which girls are taught to be ashamed of their sexual desires and encourages women to act “purely” to not tempt men and their sexuality urges, are gross. I would not let my daughter read a book like that without discussing how purity culture is often rooted in misogyny and rape culture. I would work to break down those values so my daughter did not have to feel shame about natural sexual feelings. Saying that, while I don’t agree with these books, I also don’t think they should be banned. These books can be used for a conversation about social expectations and how we don’t have to follow them. Being able to critically read and analyse bias within text is a highly vital skill to teach critical thinking. 

This is not to say that I think children should be reading things dramatically outside of their recommended age groups or that schools should promote offensive books. However, being exposed to those things didn’t kill me. They didn’t hurt me. And in some ways, I am knowledgeable in ways that my friends who were more sheltered are not. 

Those who do not want their kids reading something shouldn’t let them read it. However, I believe that this is a choice they can make for themselves and their family only—not for others.

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