Mancos librarian Jenni Kitchen loves banned books.
And she believes strongly that libraries have a responsibility to “keep the light on” by providing access to books and other materials, edgy or not.
So she’s celebrating banned books and materials all month long, through activities like Saturday’s Teen Cafe night, which focuses on celebrating banned books and films and discussing the dangers of censorship.
“Censorship and banning books, it takes away from our opportunities to educate ourselves and grow where we want to grow.” said Kitchen, the young adult services librarian at the Mancos Public Library. “And that’s what libraries are about, is giving you access to all the knowledge that you could want.”
Kitchen isn’t the only one thinking about censorship this month. Across the country, librarians, publishers and other book-lovers are celebrating Banned Books Week during the last week of September.
The week launched in the 1980s, during a time when books were seeing increasing challenges, according to the American Library Association. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Island Trees School District v. Pico that local school boards cannot ban books in libraries just because of their content – the court ruled that would be a violation of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.
The censorship conversation has continued since then, extending into other mediums including film and television. While many books have been challenged by concerned parents or community members, actually banning them is less common.
According to the ALA, in 2018 the top three most challenged books were: “George” by Alex Gino, “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” by Jill Twiss, and the “Captain Underpants” series by Dav Pilkey.
Other books that have been frequently challenged in recent years include “Thirteen Reasons Why,” the controversial novel-turned-Netflix series dealing with teen suicide, along with John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” seen as problematic for having offensive language and being sexually explicit. The Bible has appeared on the list too, for its “religious viewpoint,” according to the ALA.
At the Teen Cafe night, Kitchen plans to center her conversation around a few children’s books that have been criticized and challenged as being too inappropriate for young children: “In the Night Kitchen” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” both by Maurice Sendak.
Opposing book censorship doesn’t mean age appropriateness shouldn’t be considered, though, Kitchen said.
“Especially with some of these graphic novels,” she said. “They look pretty bad and dark and grim.” Sometimes a book will be on the edge between juvenile and young adult, or young adult and adult, and she’ll err on the side of caution by assigning it to the more mature age group.
Mancos hasn’t yet had any book challenges, Kitchen said, although there are a few “risky ones” that she anticipates could stir up trouble.
She agrees with young adult author Sherman Alexie, who said, “The best children’s books are written in blood.”
“Because we’d rather have them experience these things in a book than to actually experience them in real life,” Kitchen said.
Teen Cafe will happen from 7-10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7.