Customers are always surprised by some of the book titles that appear in Firefly Bookstore’s display for Banned Books Week.
“One of the most common questions we have is, ‘Why would anyone try to ban Captain Underpants?’” said Matthew Williams of Firefly Bookstore.
The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey appears as the number one challenged book for 2012, according to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom.
“Captain Underpants is a very popular series with beginning readers,” said Williams. “But it is often requested to be pulled from reading lists and school libraries citing offensive language.”
The American Library Association’s annual State of America’s Libraries report includes a listing of the top 10 challenged books for the previous year. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.
In 2012, the ALA received 464 reports on attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves. This is an increase from 2011 totals, which stood at 326 attempts.
Rebecca Laincz and Matthew Williams, co-owners of Firefly Bookstore in downtown Kutztown, look forward each year to setting up a display for Banned Books Week, running Sept. 22 to 28.
“We love the opportunity to talk to customers about why certain books are challenged or banned. We also talk about the history of book banning.” said Laincz.
The annual store display includes many titles that have been banned at different times, including religious texts like the Bible or the Koran.
Firefly Bookstore strongly defends the individual’s right to read, while advocating a conversation between the public and local schools and libraries.
“We are hoping with our display to talk about the debate as much as talking about the right to read these books,” said Williams.
As schools build curricula that feature both current and classic material, teachers and librarians occasionally run into complaints from parents and the public about certain books. Laincz cited a local example from 2012, when the Emmaus High School received a complaint about the summer reading list that included “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld and Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” A formal complaint brought by one parent prompted the school district to review the titles for appropriateness.
“This is the conversation that we want to see happen. It’s important that communities are aware of these challenges, and talk about them,” said the Firefly Bookstore owners.
“In the past, communities in many times and places have tried to have books removed entirely. Here in America, classics like “Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” have been attacked repeatedly. Often challenges succeed because the community is unaware of a problem. A school district or library may remove a book simply to avoid a confrontation with one parent.”
Some current titles have also been challenged in many U.S. school districts, including “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, “Nickle and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.
“These are part of our culture, and should always be available to those who want to read them,” said Williams. “We are defending accessibility.”
Ultimately, Firefly Bookstore wants the public to celebrate the freedom to read.
“By highlighting the books that have been challenged, we want to help our community understand and recognize one of our most treasured individual rights. The debate itself is important, but as long as even one person wants to read a particular book, we want to ensure that they can.”
The Banned Books display will be at Firefly Bookstore through the first week in October. For more information about Banned Books Week, go to www.bannedbooksweek.org and www.abffe.org (American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression). For more information about the American Library Association, go to www.ala.org.
Opened in August of 2012, Firefly Bookstore, Main Street, Kutztown, offerings include Books, Gifts, Games, Kobo eBook Readers and a large yearly selection of discounted calendars. Visit www.fireflybookstore.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/fireflybookstore, and blog at glimmeronthebookshelf.blogspot.com.