From Harry Potter to Huckleberry Finn, Washington State Community College students and staff read selections from a variety of books Thursday that, if some people had had their way over the years, they might never have read.
The event was organized by English instructor Amanda Anderson's literature class as part of Banned Books Week, an annual event held to promote the free exchange of ideas.
"Libraries and schools across the nation join forces to show our solidarity in supporting our First Amendment rights," said Anderson, a first-year teacher at Washington State.
Washington State president Bradley Ebersole reads from Twain's classic during a Banned Books Week ev
Anderson participated in a Banned Book Week event while she was a graduate student at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and mentioned the idea to her children's literature students during a unit on censorship.
Books are challenged for a variety of reasons, often related to material someone believes is not suited for young readers. Anderson said that while parents have the right and responsibility to guide their children's reading, "that right does not extend to other people's children."
Student Teeva Robinson read selections from both the Bible and a children's book entitled "Nappy Hair." The ban on the former was based on prohibitions by the Catholic church in the 13th century against lay people reading it without guidance and a 1947 court case involving separation of church and state. The latter was challenged more recently for being racially inappropriate and insensitive.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Washington State Community College student Luenda Kallathin, left, reads a passage from “James and the Giant Peach” during an event Thursday in the college cafeteria to mark Banned Books Week.
"It is very cute. It's a very sweet story," said Robinson, who read it with her daughters. "If you read it yourself, you can understand where they were coming from. But at the same time ... I didn't find it at all offensive."
In introducing the program, Robinson also touched on some other famous books that have been challenged. Among them was "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which she noted has been criticized by religious groups for being inaccurate and other groups for being too religious.
Washington State student Rebekah Taylor, 19, of Marietta was among those listening to the readings, at the suggestion of her English teacher.
By the numbers
Over the past 10 years, American libraries were faced with 4,660 challenges.
1,536 challenges due to "sexually explicit" material.
1,231 challenges due to "offensive language."
977 challenges due to material deemed "unsuited to age group."
553 challenges due to "violence."
370 challenges due to "homosexuality."
121 materials were challenged because they were "anti-family."
304 were challenged because of their "religious viewpoints."
Source: American Library Association.
"I'm kind of surprised at why they're doing it, why (books are) banned, for kind of stupid reasons," she said.
The readings were led off by new Washington State President Bradley Ebersole, with a selection from Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." It has been frequently challenged for its use of a controversial racial term, and one scholar is even rewriting the book, replacing the offending term with the word "slave."
Ebersole said he was impressed with Thursday's event, especially the interest it seemed to draw not only from students in the class but those listening in the lunchroom.
"I think it's fabulous," he said. "It contributes to a great learning environment."
According to the American Library Association, most book challenges were in classrooms or school libraries. Twenty-four percent happened in public libraries and less than 150 were in college classes or academic libraries. Nearly half of all challenges were initiated by parents.