Banned Books Week: Celebrating freedom of reading

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By Tanisum Halim and Reshma Deonarain, staff writers

With the start of this school year, a new annual tradition, Banned Books Week, has also started in Townsend Harris High School. This tradition initiated by librarian Arlene Laverde and sponsored by American Library Association (ALA) celebrates the freedom of reading and raises awareness about censorship. The event that takes place in the last week of September each year was observed for the first time at THHS by students and teachers.

Books are banned and challenged for various reasons including violence, sexual orientation and political issues says Ms. Laverde. “It’s important; however, that we realize [our rights] especially in our political times right now. It’s really important to recognize that censorship is an issue which is why I wanted to do something that brings awareness to banned books this year.”

Following the customs of ALA and its national read aloud, the THHS library also held an event in which students and teachers read out a passage from their favorite banned or challenged book throughout the week of September 24th, which is then posted on the ALA website and various social media.

“It was the first time we did it so no one quite knew where we were going with it, but I was happy enough that people participated and more than that, I was happy that people came over to ask questions” said Ms. Laverde referring to the turnout of this event.

Dr. Colakis, one of the classical language teachers, took part and read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. In this event she notes that books like this may be challenged, but it holds the power to transcend time. He [Huxley] wrote this in the 1930’s, but he foresaw the creation of humans in test tubes, the drug culture, the social pressures to be promiscuously sexual, the consumer culture, and high-tech mindless entertainment,”she says.   

Senior Aaron Fernando who also participated in this event by reading out a passage from The Giver by Lois Lowry says, “We have the First Amendment for a reason, and when schools and other governments institutions try and decide what is and what isn’t suitable for publication, they’re wading into dangerous territory.”

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 as a response to the increasing number of challenged books in schools, libraries and book stores. “Out of the hundreds of challenges ALA records every year, only about 10% of books are removed from the location where the challenge took place. Yet it’s progress nevertheless” according to ALA.

“Words are powerful and the fact that some books are banned in schools, states, and even countries proves just how influential words can be,” says senior Caitlin So, the President of the THHS book club, who is both an avid reader and a firm believer of the power of reading.

“One of the most important things to understand is that in a library you want to make sure all of your patrons, all of your students are represented in the pages of the books.You should not feel uncomfortable coming in here. There should be a book that you can say ‘hey, this is just like me,’” says Ms. Laverde urging students to recognize the importance of this tradition that will now be celebrated annually.