Banned Books Awareness: Bookstore Manager Facing Prison for Selling Banned Book


There’s more reasons to miss Borders in the United States- their willingness to stand up for their employees and their dedication to the freedom to read.

The manager of a Borders bookstore in Malaysia has been charged with distributing a book by controversial writer Irshad Manji.

A statement by the owners, published on the Borders Malaysia official Facebook page on Wednesday, in support of the manager has gone viral.

Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, 36, from the Borders store at The Gardens Mall, in Mid Valley City, was charged on June 19 in the Shariah High Court with distributing “Allah, Liberty and Love,” which was published in June 2011.

The charge, under Section 13(1) of Shariah Criminal Offences Act (Federal Territories) 1997, carries a fine of up to $1,200 or up to two years in prison, or both, upon conviction.

Following the charge against Aziz, Borders Malaysia Chief Operating Officer, Yau Su Peng, expressed the company’s disappointment over the accusation by the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi).

Peng said Aziz had “done no more than perform her duties as a store manager and that she did not have influence or control over the selection of books at Borders.”

Peng also contended that the raid on the bookstore was made at a time when the book had not been banned, and that there was no prior notification or warning to Borders prior to the raid that any book was in question.

The statement can be read, in its entirety, on the Borders corporate website.

The agency had banned the book on the grounds that it contains elements which “misleads the public,” is “detrimental to public order,” and is against Shariah law as prescribed in the Qur’an and Hadith.

The owners have instructed employees, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to assist JAWI with its investigations, despite the company not being subject to the jurisdiction of JAWI, as it is a non-Muslim entity.

No plea was recorded Tuesday against Aziz. She has been granted bail and the next court date is set for September 19.

Her lawyer, Rosli Dahlan, said the shop has filed a lawsuit to declare the raid illegal because Islamic officials raided the store before the book ban was officially announced. Rosli reinforced that Aziz had no authority over deciding which books the store sells and is being singled out because those in charge of merchandising were Chinese non-Muslims. Non-Muslims cannot be charged in Islamic courts, which run parallel to the country’s civil courts and administer civil matters for Muslims.

Manji released the book, together with a Malay-language translation, at an event in Kuala Lumpur on May 19 amid criticism by Muslims.

Her previous internationally-acclaimed book, “The Trouble with Islam Today,” is already banned in Malaysia, where books are frequently banned, especially those deemed obscene or against Islamic teachings.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has called on the government to reverse the book ban, saying it was “old-fashioned state repression” and “cowardly.”

Irshad Manji, who was born in Uganda and moved to Canada at the age of 4, is a supporter of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement.

Manji describes her book, Allah, Liberty and Love, as being about “how to reconcile faith and freedom in a world seething with repressive dogmas.”

She says that the ban “is an insult to a new generation of Malaysians. Censorship treats citizens like children. Censorship denies human beings their free will to think for themselves.”

“The irony is that this book makes the case for faith. It empowers readers to reconcile Allah and freedom, showing that Muslims can be independent thinkers and profound believers in a loving God,” she added.

Allah, Liberty and Love “paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to- God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities.”

One of the most vocal Muslim reformers today, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are often touching, frequently funny, and always revealing. The book discusses such topics as what scares non-Muslims, liberal voices within Islam, honor killings, and how people forgo dogma while still keeping faith. Above all, it shows how each of us can embark on a personal journey toward moral courage and have the willingness to speak up even when everybody else wants to shut you up.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: AsiaOne News, Borders, Irshad Manji, Amazon, Associated Foreign Press, CBC
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “In Our Mothers’ House”


If you celebrate and practice your basic human right to free expression, you just might want to avoid Davis County in Utah.

The small county, made up of about 15 cities, has a population of about 285,000 and the dubious distinction of engaging in book banning throughout the years.

In 1978, Jeanne Layton, director of the Davis County Library in Bountiful, lost her job for refusing to remove Don DeLillo’s Americana from library shelves.

In 1991, on the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, observances such as Banned Book Week served as a reminder that the American people have the right to free speech, free expression, and a free press. Instead of encouraging the practice of those rights, Davis County did the exact opposite when some parents complained to the Davis County School Board because John Gardner’s Grendel was required reading in the English curriculum at Viewmont High School. The book was permanently banned from further use in the district.

But that was the 20th century. Surely the residents of Davis County have left such incidents within the pages of history, right? Sadly, censorship and social intolerance are alive and well as the flames of ignorance rage on into the next millennium.

The Davis County School District, which covers an area north of Salt Lake City, is targeting books that portray families of same-sex parents. In Our Mothers’ House and Totally Joe, a book with the message that bullying of homosexual teenagers is wrong by providing a glimpse into the suffering of gay teens, who all too often take their own lives.

In Our Mothers’ House, published in 2009 by Patricia Polacco, was chosen by librarians specifically because there are children in the district with same-sex parents. The book features a lesbian couple teaching their multi-racial family to use love to give them the strength to overcome intolerance. Librarians wanted to make the school’s children feel included and also wanted to help other children understand that various types of families are all acceptable.

Chris Williams, a spokesman for the Davis School District, said the book was added to the collections at five of the district’s 50 elementary schools in June, 2010, in an “effort to be inclusive after administrators learned that a student was being raised by two mothers.”

That is an honorable and just thing to do; but not for one parent.

The parent raised her objections to the school in when her child checked In Our Mothers’ House out of the library and brought it home in January, 2011.

A school-level committee made up of teachers, administrators, and parents ruled that access to In Our Mothers’ House would be restricted to students in grades 3 through 6. When that didn’t satisfy the parent, a district committee was petitioned to address the issue.

In April, the district committee voted 6-1 that the book could stay in the collection, but should be kept behind the counter, instead of on shelves. A letter informing parents of the decision was sent out in May.

But now the district is on a witch hunt, asking district librarians to report other books with gay or lesbian characters.

DaNae Leu, a Davis media specialist, may well be the next to suffer the fate of Jeanne Layton. She says her goal is “to provide literature for my students that encompasses the whole scope of humanity.” She argues that, while parents should be able to steer their own children toward or away from a particular book, they “shouldn’t expect to make that choice for other people’s children.”

Exactly the point. Again, while it is every parents’ right to raise their children as they wish, they do not have the authority to use that right to suppress another parent from doing the same. The book is not legally defined as offensive or profane, so a personal grudge based on personal ideology should not trump the legal rights of others as guaranteed by federal law.

This isn’t the first time the book has faced fire, though, according to a 2011 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. The book has been banned by several schools in that state.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, American Library Association, The Salt Lake Tribune, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Huffington Post, American Civil Liberties Union
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “The Martian Chronicles”


The world of literature lost a legend this week when Ray Bradbury passed away.

His visions of futuristic worlds set to a backdrop of present-day social commentary has inspired and enthralled readers for decades in classics such as The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Fahrenheit 451.

But along with the accolades there were the controversies. Fahrenheit 451, a book about a dystopian future in which books and reading are outlawed, has ironically been a banned book here in the real world. In fact, that title was the first one covered by the Banned Books Awareness project.

In honor of Bradbury’s passing, this week’s column will focus on another of his novels that has been challenged for some of its cultural themes- The Martian Chronicles.

Originally published as a series of short stories in science fiction magazines of the late 1940’s, The Martian Chronicles was released in 1950 and told the story of the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing from an atomically-devastated Earth, and the ensuing conflict between the aboriginal Martians and the new human colonists.

The novel’s themes satirized capitalism, racism, and the escalating cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, which kindled opposition from parental and political groups.

It also dealt with the issue of banning books in the guise of the Moral Climate. Under the oppressive thumb of the Moral Climate fantasy and ‘escapism’ were outlawed as unrealistic. In the short story “Usher,” the first settlers of Mars worked for mining corporations and brought with them laws, customs, and memories from Earth. The character of William Stendhal engages in a battle against the authorities that regulated freedom on Earth in their parallel role on Mars. He builds a hall of horrors called the House of Usher, filled with elements from Edgar Allan Poe stories and uses it to kill all the top members of the Society for the Prevention of Fantasy, an organization censoring art and literature deemed offensive to the “Moral Climate of Earth.”

The irony is that the traps would be easy to recognize by someone who had read Poe, but the society’s members can’t see the danger because Poe’s works had been banned and burned back on Earth. Since none of the members have any familiarity with the stories and the clues they give, they fall victim.

Step over the fine line between fantasy and reality and there are some real world incidents where Bradbury’s classic novel has drawn fire for its themes.

There have been charges that the stories are sexist because the future illustrated shows a society where women are still second class to men. Men were the sole business owners, the shop workers, the entrepreneurs. For example, all of the crews that travel to Mars are male only. Even by the time the fourth expedition arrives, women are only mentioned in discussion of the men’s accomplishments and journeys. These crews are described as the “first” men, while the narrator explains that “everyone knew who the first women would be,” which to some suggests that the first women would naturally be the wives and children of the men who “conquered” Mars.

Others have criticized its racial themes.

In the chapter “Way in the Middle of the Air” we are experiencing Earth in June of 2003, where a group of white men are sitting on the porch of a hardware store. News has come that the black citizens in the American South have collectively decided to emigrate to Mars in their own custom-built rockets. The group of white men is shocked; and as the crowd walks by on their way to the rocket one of the men on the porch, Mr. Teece, tries to stop one of them, Belter, who owes him $50, but the crowd pays off the debt.

The most recent case of conflict involving this novel came when profanity and the “use of God’s name in vain” generated a challenge and removal of this novel at Florida’s Haines City High School in 1982.

What the critics fail to take into account when they cry out about sexist or racist themes is that Bradbury’s future which he illustrates was a mirror image of the reality of the time in which the stories were written, and a perfectly-crafted satire of that world.

Satire is, by its very definition and intent, an over-the-top parody of the subject in focus. It seems this point is clearly missed by those who argue that Bradbury is promoting such things.

Ray Bradbury was a prophet of science fiction and had a creative spark that will continue to inspire well into the future with these timeless classics of literature.

Today, near the north pole of Mars, a piece of Ray Bradbury lives on, waiting to be discovered by someone.

A digital copy of “The Martian Chronicles,” along with works by other science fiction legends, was flown into space in 2007 by NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft, which touched down on the Martian arctic plains.

**Author’s Note: To read my tribute to Ray Bradbury, and the story of how I met this master storyteller, please visit this link:


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, American Library Association
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “The Family Book”


Todd Parr has written over 30 children’s books, and he is the winner of two National Parenting Publication Awards, as well as three Oppenheim Gold Awards; but his The Family Book (preschool-grade 2; 2004) has stirred up some controversy.

In a whimsical, engaging way, the daily lives of all kinds of families are depicted, celebrating their differences and their similarities; and supporting acceptance of them all.

The joyful art features both human and animal characters- such as pigs portraying both clean and dirty families. Some families include stepmoms, stepdads, stepsisters, or stepbrothers; some adopt children; other families have two moms or two dads, while some children have only one parent.

Combined with these differences are the ways they are all alike: they hug each other, are sad when they lose someone they love, and enjoy celebrating together. The Family Book also serves as a teaching tool about bullying.

An otherwise harmless and typical children’s book, right? Not in Erie, Illinois.

This past week, an Illinois school district has banned the critically-acclaimed book all because of a single page referencing same-sex parents, with the accompanying line, “some families have two moms or two dads.”

In a WHBF-TV Quad Cities report-, which has since been removed from the station’s website- Erie School District 1 Superintendent, Bradley Cox, stated, “Several parents argued that the book discussed different types of family structures and those are issues that shouldn’t be taught at the elementary school level.”

Since the book was provided by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the district has moved to ban everything the organization has provided or sponsored, which includes some very popular and successful anti-bullying programs used nationwide.

Lindsay Brookhart, a mother of three children in the district, told WHBF, “Give me a break! Is this seriously an issue in our town? I think everyone needs to take a step back, research the materials themselves, and see that it’s not anything that is age-inappropriate.”

Brookhart said that the censoring of these materials, which have been proven effective in schools nationwide in combating bullying, would hurt the progress they have made at the local level.

“I’ve seen it in my own household,” said Brookhart.

Lindsay’s daughter, Kyiah, will be in the third grade next year and took away a lot from the school’s anti–bullying programs sponsored by GLSEN. Her favorite of which is “No Name Calling Week,” which is now banned under the new policy.

“Well if someone says something mean to you then you shouldn’t believe what they say because they’re bullies and they’re not right,” said Kyiah.

Brookhart, along with more than a hundred other parents have signed a petition protesting the ban, a decision which impacts campaigns like No-Name Calling Week, and other materials co-authored by the National Association of Elementary-School Principals.

But Superintendent Cox claims he was only listening to the voice of his community. Unfortunately, yet again, the heated mob-mentality of a few, fueled by emotion rather than reason, has dictated policy for the many.

“It’s probably a bit of a misrepresentation to say that it’s just a few parents who have a concern when in fact, at the end of the day, it was a school board representing the views, values and philosophies of a community that really made the decision,” said Cox. “I think our community has very clearly said if those topics come up with 6-year-olds or 7-year-olds that they would rather have those topics discussed at home. We’re still going to teach tolerance, we’re still going to teach diversity.”

Cox says that the curriculum will not be changed, only the materials that will be used to teach the students; but the district’s policy from this point on states, according to Cox, that under no circumstances will topics involving alternative lifestyles be discussed at the elementary level.

But as every parent knows, hate is not something you are born with, it is something that is learned. If these parents are so bent out of shape over a single reference to a lifestyle that is a fact of life, then it’s safe to say that their children will grow up as ignorant and as intolerant as they are.

How can you teach tolerance and the bringing of a community together as one, but make it quite clear that certain types of people are not welcome in that community?

Nowhere in the 32-page book does it promote, encourage, or sell any life situation over another. It simply looks at the world and says, as a matter of fact, “These are the many people of Earth.”

Todd Parr addressed the members of the Erie, Illinois school board in a video response that can be seen on YouTube here:


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, Huffington Post, WHBF-CBS News, School Library Journal
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “Looking for Alaska”


The Tennessee legislature recently passed a bill stating that teachers cannot encourage “gateway sexual activity,” as part of the state’s abstinence-based sexual education movement.

Seizing the opportunity implied by the new law, officials in Sumner County last week banned John Green’s Young Adult novel “Looking for Alaska” from the school curriculum because it contains an oral sex scene- one of two mildly-erotic passages in the novel. The book had already been banned as pornography in Knox County in March, 2012 after a parent protested that the book went against what she was trying to teach her child.

The book, published in March, 2005, won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association, as well as being named in 2005 a LA Times Book Prize Finalist, NY Public Library Book for Teen title, Booklist Editor’s Choice, and School Library Journal Best Book of the year.

Set at a boarding school in Alabama and divided into two parts, ‘Before’ and ‘After’, it chronicles the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter, is fascinated by the last words of famous people, and seeks what a dying Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.”
Pudge’s new friends have lives that are anything but safe and boring. Their core is the razor-sharp, sexy, and self-destructive Alaska, who has perfected the arts of pranking and evading authority. Pudge falls impossibly in love, but when tragedy strikes the group, it is only by coming face-to-face with death that Pudge discovers the value of living and loving unconditionally., a conservative blog site which promotes censorship, has accused the American Library Association and John Green of being “porn pushers” and attempting to corrupt the young.
The Tennessean quotes one Sumner parent as saying: “Kids at this age are impressionable. Sometimes it’s monkey see, monkey do. I’m going to trust that my school board made the right choice. If they feel like this book is a little too graphic, I’m all for it.”

The monkey reference is a tad ironic, as Tennessee was the site of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 that debated over evolution being taught in the classroom.

The book will remain in libraries, but critics of the decision feel that more reasonable and responsible compromises could be reached, such as offering an alternative title to objecting parents. They also point out that the book isn’t pornographic in even in the broadest sense of the term as the most objectionable word used in the realistically-rendered sex passage is “penis.” The second of the two so-called “steamy” scenes concludes:

‘We didn’t have sex. We never got naked. I never touched her bare breast, and her hands never got lower than my hips. It didn’t matter. As she slept, I whispered, “I love you, Alaska Young.’

Nonetheless, Sumner County school spokesman Jeremy Johnson used a popular justification for the ban, explaining that because the book is not a classic, it’s okay to ban it. “You take somebody like Hemingway or a John Steinbeck and there can be some language or description that may make parents uncomfortable, but the value of a writer like that outweighs what controversy may be in the individual book.”


John Steinbeck’s novels have been, and are still, routinely banned and challenged around the country. In fact “Grapes of Wrath” was banned for its “leftist sensibilities.” So, if this is the educational measuring stick, Green is in good company. Do we wait ten years before it’s old enough to be on school shelves? Twenty years? As far as the “literary merits” one needs simply to look at the list of awards an accolades already achieved in the first year of publication.

John Green is a respected Young Adult novelist whose books depict the real-world lives of teenagers and consistently receive national acclaim by critics and literature educators.

Depew, New York, near Buffalo, found itself in a related debate in 2008, when two 11th-grade teachers decided to teach “Looking for Alaska.” The debate caused Green to make a video in which he says, “I am not a pornographer,” at which point opponents relented.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, Marshall University, New York Daily News, The Tennessean
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “50 Shades of Grey”


Some call it fan fiction, while others call it “mommy porn;” but the fact is that whatever you call it, Fifty Shades of Grey, a New York Times #1 bestselling novel by E. L. James, has become an international hit.

Set in Seattle, it is the first in a trilogy that follows the relationship between a recent college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a wealthy business mogul, Christian Grey.

The trilogy was originally conceived as fan fiction based on characters from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series- which itself has been frequently banned and challenged– and this has led many in the publishing industry to question where exactly fan fiction crosses the copyright line.

According to the Washington Post, James moved Bella and Edward to Seattle, put them in the future, called the book Master of the Universe, and published it on James reportedly then rewrote it to remove any Twilight references, added new characters and situations, changed Edward’s character to Christian Grey, and Bella became Anastasia Steele. All vampire elements were removed. This new work is what readers are getting when they buy Fifty Shades of Grey published by The Writer’s Coffee Shop.

Literary merits and legitimacy aside, the biggest controversy surrounding the novel is over the sexual situations between the characters. Romance novels, often referred to as smut books or bodice rippers, have been a staple of fiction for generations, often with their own headlining section in bookstores and libraries; as such, stereotypes of the romance genre are commonplace. Many believe that all romance novels are similar to those of Danielle Steel, featuring rich, glamorous people traveling to exotic locations or set in historic times. Bestselling author Nora Roberts sums up the genre by saying, “The books are about the celebration of falling in love and emotion and commitment, and all of those things we really want.”

But some would argue that the level of BDSM in the Grey trilogy borders on the extreme and depicts a glorified image of rape. It is this level of sexuality that has many administrators jumping on the censorship bandwagon.

Legislators in Brevard County, Florida, have banned the novel solely-based on its erotic content.

Though demand for the novel among Brevard County citizens remains high, its 17 libraries will take all copies out of circulation immediately. Well, the truth is, they will just as soon as they are returned.

County spokesman, Don Walker, said that he had not read the book. In can interview with New York Daily News, he said, “We don’t put pornography on our bookshelves,” he referred to the book as “mommy porn” before admitting, “I’m not sure what that is.”

He drew a distinction between “Fifty Shades” and books like Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Capricorn,” which was banned in the United States upon publication in 1938 until 1961. According to Walker, Miller’s exploration of sexuality in 1920’s New York had become “part of the societal mainstream,” while James’ “Twilight” fan-fiction had not yet “reached acceptance” and could therefore be easily dismissed.

In fact, ask a librarian at the Cocoa Beach Library in Brevard County, and they’ll be happy to direct you to a copy of “Tropic of Capricorn;” ask for “Fifty Shades” and they’ll direct you to the door.

So, popularity and longevity are the deciding factors between what is smut and what is literature? That hardly seems like educated reasoning, but if popularity and becoming part of the mainstream are all that it takes then it won’t be long before Fifty Shades shares a library shelf with Tropic of Capricorn and Romeo and Juliet.

In March, 2012, Universal Studios secured the movie rights after competing with bids from several other top Hollywood studios. Actors such as Ian Somerhalder and Alexander Skarsgård (of True Blood fame) have expressed great interest in the role of Christian Grey.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, USA Today, Good Morning America, Washington Post, New York Daily News
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “Yertle the Turtle”


For the third time in recent weeks the Banned Books Awareness series once again focuses on some rather disturbing trends from Canada. Incidents of censorship by the border patrol, negative reactions to fiction based on historical documents, and now it seems Dr. Seuss has been branded too political for the classroom.

Yertle the Turtle (1958) is one of six- yes, six- beloved Dr. Seuss titles that have repeatedly faced the ire of censors for various reasons; now a teacher at an elementary school in northern British Columbia has been told that a quote from the classic work has been deemed “too political” and the quote is no longer allowed to be displayed, or worn on clothing.

So, what is the offensive line that has school administrators in an uproar? Yertle, one of three stories in the book, deals with the king of a pond who stacks himself on top of other turtles in order to reach the moon, and yells at them when they complain. The line in question is: “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights.”

Administrators were quick to try to save face by denying that the book itself has been banned, just the quote; but since the book contains the offending line, out the book must go. Yeah, that makes sense.

The teacher had the quote amid other material she brought to a meeting with management after receiving a notice relating to union material that was visible in her car on school property.

Dave Stigant, acting director of instruction for the Prince Rupert School District, said that the school based its decision on an arbitrator’s ruling in 2011 that political materials must be kept out of British Columbia classrooms. He met with the teacher to discuss what is and is not considered in keeping with district standards.

Stigant conceded Tuesday that it might seem absurd to spend time reviewing quotes from Dr. Seuss, and even former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, but said the review is necessary to protect students from an often-bitter dispute.

“It’s a good use of my time if it serves the purpose of shielding the children from political messaging,” Stigant said. “I don’t consider it taking a stand on the dispute. It’s a matter of legality and living up to our obligation to children and their families.”

The decision is the latest at the center of a labor dispute between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and the province.

“I responded that in the context, it was borderline,” Stigant said. “Contextually, it was political- but it was grey and I would prefer it didn’t appear and I believe she agreed.”

Stigant claimed that he didn’t know the source of the quote when he met with the teacher; on Monday afternoon (4/23/12), Joanna Larson, president of the BCTF local in Prince Rupert, posted on Twitter that “Teachers in Prince Rupert, BC could face discipline for displaying Dr. Seuss quote. Management “must insulate students from political messages.”

To say that relations between teachers and management in the district are strained would be an understatement. Teachers from the district filed more than 100 grievances in 2011, a record for the province, according to the BCTF.

The district has sent about a dozen notices to teachers regarding the wearing of pins or displaying quotes since the union went on strike last year. In the first phase of their strike, which began in September, teachers withdrew some services, such as supervision and preparing report cards, which led to a three-day legal walkout in March.

Bill 22, new education legislation that came into effect last month, ended the strike and brought in a mediator. Under the bill, the mediator is required to maintain the government’s “net-zero” mandate, which stipulates that new contracts can’t cost any more money than collective agreements they replace.

Since the bill was passed, the union and the government have clashed over the mediator selected by the province and report cards. This month, BCTF members voted in favor of a province-wide withdrawal of voluntary, extracurricular activities in protest against Bill 22.

Teachers and the government are at odds over issues including wages, classroom conditions, and the province’s response to a court ruling last year that found previous education legislation was unconstitutional.

Dr. Seuss, otherwise known as Theodor Geisel, started his career as a political cartoonist. He once stated the character of Yertle was modeled after Hitler and an allegory for authoritarianism.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon,, The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post, MSN
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “The Dirty Cowboy”


Last Thursday (4/19/2012), the Annville-Cleona School Board in Pennsylvania voted 8-0 to remove an award-winning children’s book, The Dirty Cowboy, by Amy Timberlake, from its elementary schools after a student’s parents objected to its illustrations.

Board Vice President Gordon Waldhausen was absent, but President Tom Tshudy said, “We take review of this type of thing very, very seriously.”

The book, which is illustrated by Adam Rex, tells the story of a young cowboy who needs his annual bath and instructs his dog to watch his clothes while he bathes. When the cowboy emerges from his bath in the river, the dog does not recognize his familiar smell and refuses to give back the cowboy’s clothes.

Rex skillfully uses nearby objects, such as birds and a boot, to cover the cowboy’s genitals in the various scenes; the depiction of which is no more or less lewd that the countless Renaissance paintings of David or Adam and Eve that have been praised for centuries.

The book has garnered numerous awards, including the International Reading Association award in 2004, the Parents Choice Gold Medal, and the Bulletin Blue Ribbon from the Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books.

School Superintendent Steven Houser compared the book to inappropriate content in today’s movies and on the Internet.

He referred to age-appropriate movie ratings such as PG, PG-13, and R used to restrict content. The district also blocks thousands of Internet sites it deems inappropriate from its computers on a daily basis.

“The parents were asking if this is something that all kids should have access to, or if this is something that should be a parents’ decision,” he said.

Houser clarified earlier reports and said the parents never referred to the book as pornography.

When asked what they felt might be result from children viewing or reading the material, they replied that, “Children may come to the conclusion that looking at nudity is okay, and therefore pornography is okay.'”

“The parents asked us to review this book because their concern was that parents should have the right to decide whether or not their children view this book.”

Tshudy stated that he had no problems with the actual story, just the questionable illustrations.

At last week’s school board meeting, Cleona Elementary School librarian Anita Mentzer objected to the book’s removal, saying she does not believe that one parent’s objection to a book should determine whether or not the rest of the student body can read it.

Mentzer, who was present at Thursday night’s meeting, walked out with several other people after the vote.

According to the school district’s policy, when any material receives an objection from a citizen, the material is reviewed by an evaluation committee that includes teachers, administrators, and school board members. The complainant can also attend the evaluation committee’s meetings if they choose.

The committee was tasked with completing an objective, thorough review of the material, and passages “shall not be taken out of context and the material should be evaluated in its entirety.” The parents attended when the committee met on April 12 and forwarded its recommendation to remove the book to the school board.

The book, which is intended for ages 4 and up, has received positive reviews from Booklist, the American Library Association, and School Library Journal.

“Rex’s rich paintings add sparkle to the story’s dramatic telling with the attention to detail and humor that may remind some grownups of Norman Rockwell’s early work. A simple, slapstick tale that is sure to elicit some giggles,” chimes Booklist.

To see the illustrations that were objected to, click here.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, CBS News, Lebanon Daily News
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “The Book of Negroes”


Lawrence Hill wrote one of the bestselling and most-popular Canadian novels of all time; but what does he do for an encore?

Hill, who will be in Edmonton this coming Tuesday (4/17/12) to deliver the University of Alberta’s annual Henry Kreisel lecture, knows how to follow up a smash hit. He’s just not letting it bother him much.

“I have a little mantra and it’s that I can’t really be responsible for a book’s commercial failure or success; all I can do is write the best book that I can,” Hill said in a telephone interview from his home in Hamilton, Ontario.

For his appearance next week in Edmonton, in a billed speech “On Banning, Burning, and Other Inspired Responses to Books,” Hill will reflect back on some not-so-positive experiences with his novel, The Book of Negroes.

The 2007 book is inspired by a little-known historical document of the same name, copies of which can be found in the New York Public Library, the Rockefeller Library at Colonial Williamsburg, and the U.S. National Archives in Washington D.C. In Canada, it can be found in the National Archives of Canada.

Set in the 18th century, it tells the story of a young African girl who regains her freedom after being sold into slavery; the novel won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize in 2007 and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize a year later. The year after that, it won the annual Canada Reads showdown on CBC-Radio, a literary popularity contest that skyrockets the winner’s sales. All those triumphs helped the book’s publication launch worldwide- but they also pressed some buttons.

Although The Book of Negroes is the title of an actual historical document, publishers in the United States, Norway, New Zealand, and Australia insisted the novel’s title be changed to Someone Knows My Name. In Quebec the book is titled Aminata, the name of the main character.

The most ominous response came when Hill received a letter from Roy Groenberg on behalf of the Dutch group, the Foundation to Honor and Restore Victims of Slavery in Suriname, who was offended by the use of the word “Negro” in the title. The group, who are descendants of the former Dutch colony in Suriname, gathered in an Amsterdam park last June and symbolically burned a cover of The Book of Negroes.

To many, the Dutch protest seemed eccentric and laughable, but Hill didn’t see it that way, and he warns that we laugh off such actions at our own peril.

In a statement from the book’s Dutch publisher, it was explained that the title was kept “as-is” to help highlight an issue that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the Netherlands.

“Slave history was horrid. We Dutch played a large role in it,” read the letter.

In the New Amsterdam colony (the original name of what is now New York) Dutch slave traders were among the first to import African slaves into the United States.

Hill responded by explaining that he based his title on the historical document that was used to record the names of over 3000 slaves who were British Loyalists during the American Revolution who were evacuated by the British and sent to Nova Scotia. Ship lists, physical descriptions of the slaves, and where they were bound were included. Hill’s intention was to bring this little-known piece of history to light. “I have found that when given the opportunity to see what I am doing in this book and with this title, readers understand that the title is not intended to be offensive, but that it is used historically, to shed light on a forgotten document and on a forgotten migration.”

Hill’s entire response to the Dutch group was published by the Toronto Star.

“I think we underestimate the impact that censorship and the fear of controversy have on the free circulation of books and ideas in public spaces, including in the public schools.”

As an example, Hill finds it “almost surreal” that one of the most frequently-banned books across North America today is the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling might be able to withstand the onslaught of countless schools removing the young wizard from their shelves, Hill notes, but for many other writers that sort of response would severely hamper their ability to enter the free market of ideas.

“I think that one of the most worrisome aspects about hostile reactions to books is the chill that it puts in other people. The degree to which it makes them fearful about the book in the classroom, because you’re afraid you’re going to get hammered by parents or others in the public if you do teach it, so why go through that anxiety, why not just pull out a safe book that nobody’s objected to for the last 50 years?”

“It puts a chill on teachers, publishers and booksellers, especially if they’re dealing with a work that isn’t already enshrined in the canon of acceptable, famous lauded literary work.”

Greg Hollingshead, chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada, stated in a press release that “the burning of books represents censorship at its worst. While we recognize the sensitivity over the use of the word ‘Negro’ in the book’s title, The Book of Negroes is a real document and Mr. Hill uses it deliberately to underscore the plight of African Americans being shipped from New York to Nova Scotia in 1783.”

Plans for a movie adaption of The Book of Negroes with filmmaker Clement Virgo have stalled and Hill and Virgo are now reworking the material for a possible TV miniseries.

The Kreisel Lecture: “On Banning, Burning, and Other Inspired Responses to Books” takes place at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at the Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Edmonton Journal, CBC, Toronto Star, The Guardian
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “Banned Books saved from burning in Canada”


Just two days before Deborah Merrick, Branch Manager at Merritt Library in British Columbia, was scheduled to burn banned books, members of the community came forward to stop her.

“People came in and said they didn’t want any books burned,” Merrick said. “I didn’t have a single person come out and say that burning books would be a good thing.”

The event ran from February 26 to March 3 as a part of Freedom to Read Week.

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that “encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed to them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” according to a mission statement on the organization’s website.

Freedom to Read Week is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council. The Canadian counterpart to the American Library Associations Banned Book Week, which itself is held the last week of September in the United States, is shared by National Read Across America Day on March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss and aimed at inspiring literacy.

The books represented those that have been banned or challenged at some point. Each person at the library was only allowed to save one book; altogether 47 books were saved during the week-long public awareness event. Some of the titles featured were “Little Women,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Catcher in the Rye,” “The Holy Bible” and “Harry Potter.”

“We wanted to get the word out there that a banned book might as well be a burned book,” Merrick said.

“I’m so happy, because if people in the community didn’t stand up, I don’t know what I would have done.”

The plan worked and people throughout the community were drawn out, curious over the very notion that a librarian would burn a book.

The Canadian Library Association started cataloguing censorship attempts in the 1980’s and quickly learned of hundreds of incidents involving books, magazines, music CDs, and DVDs; the most recent examples include 139 challenges in 2009 and an additional 92 titles in 2010.

The plan, in part, was to also widen public consciousness in the face of increasing incidents of books and magazines that are being seized by Canadian Border Patrol agents.

In 2011, five copies of the comic book anthology Black Eye 1: Graphic Transmissions to Cause Ocular Hypertension and the graphic novella Young Lions were seized by officials of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in Buffalo, New York, when artist Tom Neely and a colleague were travelling to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival because customs officers found images of sex and violence in Black Eye 1 and pencil sketches of young fictional characters having sexual contact in Young Lions. They sent the books to the capital in Ottawa to determine whether the publications were legally obscene.

Upon review, the CBSA ruled that Black Eye was not obscene and therefore legal to possess, while Young Lions was ruled obscene and its importation into Canada banned.

Also in 2011, the CBSA seized and detained copies of this U.S. gay mens’ magazine, Instigator, when agents suspected the magazine was legally obscene.

The man who possessed the publication, who lives north of Vancouver, informed Xtra about the incident. Xtra publishes news for and about Canadian gays and lesbians. When Xtra exposed the story on November 3rd the CBSA released the magazines to the owner.

The Canadian Library Association’s Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom has developed an annual survey to investigate challenges to material in Canadian libraries. The results of the second survey (2007) can be viewed here.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Merritt Herald (British Columbia),,
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions