Banned Books Week

Celebrating the Freedom to Read: Sept. 21-27, 2014

DaNae Leu

A school librarian who fought to keep "In our Mothers’ House" by Patricia Polacco in Utah school libraries
Davis School District
Farmington, Utah

How did you hear about the book challenge in your community and why did you take action?

I was contacted by my district administrator and informed that "In our Mothers’ House" by Patricia Polacco, a book in my school’s collection, had been restricted in every school in our district. I was told to pull the book from the shelves and keep it behind the counter. Students would not be allowed to check it out without a note from a parent. A mother from a different school had challenged it at the district level after the committee at her child’s school elected to leave it in the collection.

Upon hearing the news, I would like to say I charged full-speed ahead to the nearest ACLU office or contacted the local press, but alas, I didn’t have quite that much initiative or direction.

Mostly, I threw temper tantrums.

I wrote enraged e-mails. I heckled a district meeting where I, along with the sixty other elementary librarians, was informed of the decision. I pretty much barraged any living soul that I came in contact with for the next few weeks over the injustice of removing any book from our collection. It’s likely I would still be a hollow-shell of bitterness if others hadn’t stepped in. Somehow Melinda Rogers, a reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune, got a hold of my name and when she called I was ready to express my outrage and disappointment in the verdict. Once the story broke in the paper others such as Wanda Huffaker, the rest of ULA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and our local ACLU chapter worked towards ensuring that the book was returned to our shelves. There are many heroes in this story.

You can get books at the library or store, why should we care about a book being removed from one class of students or one community?

Such a loaded question. One with varied answers. The simple answer is that not every child that might benefit from that book has the means to purchase it or travel to where it might be obtained. The more nuanced answer is that when a book is removed from a public collection, whether school or library, we are declaring that specific ideas, lifestyles, and information are not acceptable to that community. In a country that was founded on the idea that every citizen has the freedom of expression this type of limitation cannot be sanctioned.

Why do you think being aware of book challenges or bans is important to our country today?

I think most of the population at large is aware of the historical context of burning and banning books and information: zealots with arm bands, or Mongols terrorizing Bagdad, or the Taliban going after school girls. These instances might seem far removed from the parent who wants to keep uncomfortable or “scary” content from their child and other people’s children. But when faced with the parallel our citizenship should rise up and accept the perils of information over the atrocity of limiting it.

Who inspires you? Who is your hero?

This is going to sound corny but up against the issue of banning books the constructors of our constitution hold up well. When looked at with scrutiny many of these men were personally flawed, many were at odds with each other, but somehow they foresaw that information and ideas needed to run free and rampant for their new country to flourish.

Also, Shel Silverstein:
“Listen to the mustn'ts, child.
Listen to the don'ts.
Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me...
Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
(A Light in the Attic)