While thinking of William Shakespeare’s famously penned line “Words, words, words,” (2.8) from his play Hamlet, it really got me thinking about the power of those little things. Words. One of the most basic and important principles we need to understand when learning to read is the concept that sounds make up words and words have meaning. Of course words have meaning, you’ll say. One of the most basic rights in this country is the freedom of speech. But believe it or not, some people really don’t like that idea. They’ll say sometimes words have too much meaning, meanings that are inappropriate, meanings unsuitable for children, or perhaps just unnecessary in life. Imagine how different life would be if some of your favorite words were restricted, unable to be read, said, and lost forever.
While this idea sounds absurd, the censoring of words has been happening all around the country for years. Every year, countless numbers of books are challenged by various people and groups in an attempt to restrict reading materials from places such as libraries and schools; in some cases, materials are requested to be banned and removed permanently. From September 25-29, the American Library Association celebrated its annual Banned Books Week. This week was a celebration of the freedom to read and an effort to cherish the power that words have. On September 27, the University of Delaware hosted its 5th annual Banned Books Readout. From 11am to 3pm, students, faculty, and other university goers gathered on The Green in front of Morris Library and read excerpts from some of their favorite books that had been banned or challenged over the years.
Many were surprised to see what books had been challenged and why. I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings made the list of the “Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016” for portraying transgender youth and being generally “offensive in viewpoint.” This story about acceptance and exploration in gender has been lashed out against by many groups. Think of how many children this story could positively affect, but can’t because of multiple challenges around the country. One of the most popular book series of our generation has held the spot of the most challenged series of the 21st century. To add onto that, the author of the books remains the most challenged living author to date. Have you guessed yet? The Harry Potter series remains frequently challenged in libraries and schools around the country. Why, you ask? The books contain one too many “Satanic, anti-family values, allusions of violence, and references to magic.” Over the years, the most challenged books have had to do with violence, sexually explicit actions, foul language, and anti-family values. This year, every book in the top 10 list had to do with sexuality.
Books provide insurmountable amounts of knowledge. They unleash creativity and take you to another world. They allow you, even for just a moment, to forget your troubles, stresses, and worries. They provide readers the opportunity to just be, and revel in all the joys that words have to offer. Little words, strong but mighty, have the power to change and create. They inform and explode off of a page. They resonate and make us think. We must protect and cherish them, for if there are no words left, what is there to say or do?
While Banned Books Week has passed, I encourage you to check out the American Library Association’s website and look at the list of frequently challenged books. Maybe pick one up and give it a read. Live in rebellious nature! Bask in the glorious power of a book that overcame and resisted the powers that be.
“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic”
–Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone