Teen reference librarian Clare Curran reads from a Harry Potter book to several teens at the Andover Memorial Hall Library on Tuesday afternoon. The library hosted the event to read and discuss books that have been banned or are currently banned in different parts of the country.

Some people think children and teens should be reading less.

As they listened this week to excerpts from books that were the target of bans 30 years ago and even today, Andover, Mass., teens at Memorial Hall Library got a sampling of what they could be missing.

Books like Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Robert Cormier’s “The Chocolate War,” and J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” were among the offerings.

“I cannot believe they banned that,” said 15-year-old Ian Giribaldi of “Fahrenheit 451,” when Kimberly Lynn, the library’s young adult services director, read it aloud.

“It’s an awesome book,” Giribaldi added.

The event was part of the library’s commemoration of Banned Books Week. Nationwide, librarians take the opportunity to recognize the country’s history of banning books by pulling dusty copies of JD Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and other books that many people thought were too vulgar for readers when they came out.

Some people think they shouldn’t be read today, either. And that’s another reason for Banned Books Week: It gives librarians a chance to raise awareness about continuing ban attempts.

Books have been the target of bans for as long as they’ve been around. In Boston in the late 1920s, officials banned books like Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” and Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” according to the American Library Association.

That’s not all in the past, however.

The American Library Association recorded 546 attempts this year to ban books, and that’s only about 25 percent of how many attempts there actually are, according to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director for the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the association.

“Because there are 546 challenges this year, that’s 546 instances across the country where someone said, ‘I know better than you. You should be protected from the ideas in this book,’” Caldwell-Stone said. “As long as that’s going on, we need Banned Books Week.”

Her point is driven home by the controversy over “And Tango Makes Three,” a children’s book that the American Library Association named the most controversial book of 2006. It tells the true story of two male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo who successfully raised an egg together. The book was challenged hundreds of times in different parts of the country, and successfully banned in some places.

Library patrons in North Andover, Andover, Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill can get the book. In a few of them, it is currently checked out.

Local librarians agree that it’s important to keep reminding people that censorship attempts go on today.

“People want to impose their value on the whole community,” said Krista McLeod, director of the Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen.

“I may agree with their values; it’s not for me to say what your child can read or what you can read,” she said.

How books are banned

A U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down in 1982, Board of Education, Island Tree School District v. Pico., made it tougher for school boards to remove books from school libraries.

According to the decision, it is a violation of the First Amendment to prohibit students from accessing a book simply because a party disagrees with ideas in it.

In libraries and schools, people can protest books by filing a “challenge,” which is a written demand to remove an item from the shelves. To have books, magazines, movies or CDs removed, a person must fill out a form explaining exactly why they think it’s inappropriate, specifying whether the complaint falls under one or more of the following categories: cultural, sexual, values, or social issues.

The complaint goes before a panel of library trustees and the director, who read the book or watch the movie to make a judgment.

Such challenges continue here today.

McLeod, director of Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen, is dealing with one right now, she said. She wouldn’t disclose the book’s title, because she said challenges are confidential.

A few years ago, patrons asked that the library remove “Pay It Forward,” a movie about a young man who proves that one good deed turns another, because it inferred unmarried people were having sex.

In Lawrence, “American Psycho” was removed from the movie collection a few years back because a parent protested after her 11-year-old daughter was allowed to check it out, Lawrence Public Library Director Maureen Nimmo said. The movie is about a man living out his psychotic fantasies.

Despite the challenges, local library directors said books and movies seldom are removed.

In 12 years at Lawrence Public Library, Nimmo remembers four or five challenges. Only one resulted in pulling the material. And in 16 years at Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen, McLeod said of the few challenges she recalls none resulted in a banned book.

Beth Kerrigan, head of the children’s collection at Memorial Hall Library in Andover, said they often get complaints, particularly about young adult and children’s books. None, however, has risen to the level where parents demanded it be removed.

One parent, for instance, recently questioned whether “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” a Stephen Chbosky novel that contains themes of sex and homosexuality, was appropriate for a high-school summer reading list.

She said once a parent understands there are restrictions about how hold a person must be to check out the book, he or she tends to reconsider.

Public libraries in Haverhill and North Andover said no books or movies have been challenged.

“We are a public library. We provide pretty much what the public wants,” said Sue Ellen Holmes, director of Stevens Memorial Library in North Andover.

What kids think

Awed by the books some people think they shouldn’t read, the Andover teens questioned reasons why “enraged grown-ups” would try to keep literature away from them.

Brendan Hudak, 16, of Andover wanted to know, why “Harry Potter” was the target of challenges.

Because it has witchcraft in it, said Lynn, the director of young adult services at Memorial Hall Library, and Clare Curran, who also works in the young adult section.

“You think that (it) would be for different reasons,” Ian Giribaldi chimed in. “You think it would be banned for cruelty to children,” because Harry Potter is mistreated by adults, he said.

People worry that when kids read about witchcraft, sex or drugs, the two librarians explained, they’ll go out and do it.

“That’s stupid,” Giribaldi said. “You want it in books or you want it in the schools? Your kid has to learn about it one way or another. I read a lot of books. It’s sort of helped me write my own stories.”

Catherine Jacavanco, 13, of Andover, seconded that notion. She said reading books has never made her want to do bad things.

“It’s made me want to get into some stuff (that’s) good,” she said.

Most challenged books of 2006

1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for homosexuality, anti-family and unsuited to age group.

2. “Gossip Girls” series, by Cecily Von Ziegesar for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group and offensive language

3. “Alice” series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for sexual content and offensive language

4. “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler for sexual content, anti-family, offensive language and unsuited to age group

5. “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison for sexual content, offensive language and unsuited to age group

6. “Scary Stories,” series by Alvin Schwartz for occult/satanism, unsuited to age group, violence and insensitivity

7. “Athletic Shorts,” by Chris Crutcher for homosexuality and offensive language

8. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky for homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language and unsuited to age group

9. “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison for offensive language, sexual content and unsuited to age group

10. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier for sexual content, offensive language and violence

Source: American Library Association

Top novels of the 20th century that have been targets of bans

1. “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald

2. “Catcher in the Rye,” JD Salinger

3. “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck

4. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee

5. “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker

Source: American Library Association

What does a challenge form look like?

A challenge form, which is the paperwork a person must fill out in an attempt to ban a book, asks for the name of the work and grounds for the challenge. Challengers can check as many reasons as they want in the following categories.

r Cultural - Anti-ethnic, insensitivity, racism, sexism, inaccurate

r Sexual - Homosexuality, nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

r Values - Anti-family, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, violence

r Social issues - Abortion, drugs, occult/satanism, suicide

Source: American Library Association

Recommended for you