February 21, 2012

Freedom to Read Week

February 26 to March 3, 2012

"Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves. Free expression on the Internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read."

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council to raise awareness of issues involving intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

From Vernon, B.C. to Coaldale, Alberta, and Regina, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg, to Innisfil, Toronto, Ottawa and Peterborough, all the way to Cornerbrook, Newfoundland Labrador, libraries and other organizations are organizing events to celebrate our freedom to read.   A wide variety of contests, displays, films, readings, concerts, workshops, read-a-thons, and benefits are planned throughout Canada.  Check the Freedom to Read Week 2012  web site for a full listing of events.

A personal note:
Many readers are able to choose their reading unhampered by the will of others.  When the readers are young, it's not unusual for parents to help direct their children's choices of reading materials.  Similarly, teacher-librarians (if you're fortunate enough to have one in the school) or public librarians are experienced in offering readers' advisory and can offer assistance.  But just as there is a wide range of readers, both in interest, capabilities and experiences, the richness of literature available to children and young adults is far-reaching (contrary to the "there's nothing to read" refrain).  What a child chooses to read or a parent of a child allows to be read is personal, as is their reaction to any text.  We all choose what we want to read, are willing to read, or refuse to read.  That's freedom to read.  But, censorship is the expectation that we have the right to choose what others may read.

As reviewers, we must be diligent to avoid focusing on those attributes which may be deemed objectionable by some and to instead focus on the literary quality of the book: the plot, the characters, the writer's craft, vocabulary richness, themes.  To overwhelm a review with red flags of inappropriateness is both arrogant and unprofessional.  Of course, I pick and choose what I review, based on what books are available, on my reading preferences and on my personal reactions to the theme or the author's writing or whatever.  After all, I can't review every book so I choose those I look forward to reading.

But, anyone who decides that a particular book should not be included in a school or public library, or used by a teacher for a novel study, or honoured with a nomination on a selection list (such as for the Forest of Reading) is practising censorship.  And don't for a second believe that they are protecting anyone with their book challenges.

Decide for yourself what you will read.  Don't decide for all readers.  Not your job.  Nor mine.

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