Troubled by recent record-breaking efforts to censor certain books and various voices, local booksellers are working together this week to raise awareness of the issue.
And trying to make that important conversation “fun.”
For the first banned book hunt in the Cape and Islands, staff at seven bookstores hid dozens of boxed books – those that have been taken off school and public library shelves or are in danger – outdoors.
A set of books was hidden on Sunday as National Banned Book Week began, and the locations are all outdoors. At places like beaches, parks, or wherever the community gathers, look for the clues from Jessica Devin, co-owner of the Brewster Book Store, who has started what she hopes will be a family-focused project.
Another set of books will be hidden midweek to mark the end of the ascent, which ends Saturday, she said. A total of up to 75 books – donated by the stores and Penguin Random House publishers – will be available for the find.
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“It seems historically that the ones that get banned the most are the ones that might end up in school libraries, so more than not they’re books that you see in middle schools or high schools,” Devin said of the books in stores have hidden. “But who knew that Dr. Seuss was banned? So there are also hidden books that younger people might enjoy.”
Devin said she got into the plan because she firmly believes people have the freedom to choose what they read. And she’s a fan of interactive family fun related to reading, like the popular StoryWalks, where pages of a book are placed along an outdoor path to follow.
While her bookstore and others have long been watching Banned Book Week in various ways, Devin said she wants something bigger in the community this year after being alarmed by new statistics showing attempts to ban books are a year were more common in 2021 than in a generation.
“People should have choices when it comes to reading, and the beauty of it is that we have libraries, we have used bookstores, we have thrift stores where people can access books,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really dangerous when people start trying to censor what people read.
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“In my view, reading is a great way for people to explore and learn and to open windows they don’t normally have access to – reading about people who are like them or people who are different from them – and in that The moment we start censoring what people can access, we close the windows.”
How efforts to ban books have grown
Each year, Banned Books Week highlights the American Library Association’s top 10 most challenged books from the previous year. The 2022 list, the booksellers said in announcing the hunt, will again include titles originating from Black or LGBTQIA2S+ people that explore racism, racial justice and LGBTQIA2S+ stories.
The Library Association tracked 729 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2021, resulting in more than 1,597 challenges or removals of individual books. These are the highest numbers since tracking began more than 20 years ago, Banned Book Week observers said.
Other local bookstores participating in the Cape and Islands chase include Belonging Books of Cape Cod, which will have a pop-up store at the Love Local Fest at Aselton Park in Hyannis on Sunday; Edgartown Books in Edgartown; Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich; Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore and Children’s Annex and Yellow Umbrella Books, both in Chatham; and Sea Howl Bookshop in Orleans.
Each store is responsible for its own part of the hunt and can provide clues via social media this week.
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“Independent bookstores consider freedom of reading to be a cornerstone of our mission,” the local bookstores said in a joint statement. “As a bookseller, we believe in protecting readers’ rights and the importance of how books are represented. We condemn the current spate of book bans in schools and libraries as a threat to both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”
Devin said supporters hope to expand community involvement to other businesses and possibly libraries over the next year and make the book hunt an annual event.
Share or ban book?
This year individual shops in the Cape and Islands are also having banned book displays and are expected to offer a range of activities throughout the week. Those who find the hidden books will be offered prizes ranging from stickers to a chance to get an advance copy of an unreleased book, Devin said.
But winning an award is not the ultimate goal. “Those who find a book are encouraged to read and enjoy it, share it with a friend or family member, or give it to a local school,” the booksellers said in announcing the hunt. “Join us during Banned Books Week to condemn the ban on books, protect freedom of reading and celebrate how books unite us!” The slogan of the national Banned Books Week is: “Books unite us. Censorship separates us.”
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Calls to ban books – mostly because of content – are labeled “challenges” and are more often directed at school libraries. So, Devin said, more of the hidden books are targeted at the age group affected by people’s efforts to squash them.
According to the Library Association, the 10 most challenged books of 2021 were: “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe; Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison; “All Boys Ain’t Blue” by George M. Johnson; Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez; “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas; “The Absolutely True Journal of a Part-Time Native American” by Sherman Alexie; “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews; “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison; “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson; and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin.
The 2020 list also included the classics To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men, while those for 2019 included The Handmaid’s Tale and the Harry Potter series.
Contact Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll at [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @KathiSDCCT.
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