Time to turn the page … again | columns

Before he was elected president, then-US Senator Barack Obama delivered a speech at the American Library Association 2005 Annual Conference. In that speech he said, “At the moment that we persuade a child — any child — to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. It’s an enormous force for good.”

As an adult, I am still awed when I walk into an unfamiliar library. Having spent years utilizing the libraries in Westminster and Taneytown due to their convenient locations at the time, we recently added the library in Thurmont to our library haunts. I was as filled with wonder as I walked into that library as I was when I first walked into a library in Brainerd, Minnesota, where I grew up, more years ago than you need to know or I am willing to admit.

Like schools, libraries are sources of education. Books take you out of your world and into another, if only for a while, and when you finish a book, you are often thinking about it for days. When you read, you learn.

In this day and age, children are probably more interested in playing sports or computer games, but if you want to establish a balance for their interests, getting them involved in libraries and library activities when they are young is beneficial. They will generally love the experience and be entertained by reading for the rest of their lives.

It seems to me that children are fundamentally inclined to be attracted to age-related books. When very young, they like stories about puppies or unicorns, for example. As they age, they gravitate to other stories, perhaps those about sports. Then it’s on to Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys and so on. It may take a few years before the desire to be entertained while learning is replaced by learning for learning’s sake.

As far as teaching goes, I believe educators would know what books could be utilized to teach any specific age group. Yet recently, a Tennessee school board district banned the Pulitzer Prize-winning, nonfiction graphic novel, “Maus,” a book about the Holocaust, from its eighth-grade curriculum. Their reason? Eight curse words and a nude “picture”.

Since I wondered about the claimed inappropriateness of the graphic novel, “Maus,” I got my hands on “The Complete Maus” (Volume 1 and 2) and read it cover to cover. I’d never read a graphic novel, and it took a few minutes to get used to it. In the book, the author, Art Spiegelman, shares his father’s life with him, a life that was altered by the atrocities he saw and experienced in Auschwitz and elsewhere as he fought to survive.

It bears noting that the drawings in Maus are just that, black and white sketches, depicting humans as either mice, cats or pigs. It’s impossible not to be moved by the story or its historical impact. It falls just short of 300 pages, and yes, I spotted the curse words. They were so sporadic that I failed to count them. As for nudity, there was one drawing that could have been what the Tennessee school board was referring to, but it was so undefined and nonsexual, I had to backpedal when I was done to find it. To me, the book was an exceptionally apt tool to teach 13-year-olds about the Holocaust.

All in all, the concerns of the Tennessee school district that banned “Maus” seemed faulty. It made me think, “What’s the real reason they banned this book?”

When you open a book, it is often an escape into someone’s imagination or a view of someone’s research or opinion. A book can offer you a world of love, mystery, adventure or history, and prepare you for the human foibles you will witness in your lifetime.

Texas has also banned some books from school libraries. What’s next, attempts to control what we see by removing famous nude paintings and sculptures from art museums? We’ve been through eras of book burning and book banning before. It’s time to turn the page yet again in order to stop the dumbing down of the population.

In that speech to the American Library Association in 2005, Obama also noted that libraries represented a window to a larger world, one in which we could discover ideas and concepts that help to move the American and human story forward. That is why, I have suggested, “whenever those who seek power would want to control the human spirit, they have gone after libraries and books.”

Patricia Weller is writing from and reading in Emmitsburg. She can be reached at jpwburg2@gmail.com.


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