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Let Our Kids Read

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” says author Emilie Buchwald.  That’s a nice cuddly sort of sentiment, isn’t it?  But she’s right.  Most of us with children do read to them, almost from birth.  It’s one of the best tools we have to introduce them to the vast new world around them.

We read to teach colors, shapes, letters, numbers, and textures.  To teach them about animals and flowers, babies, and brothers and sisters, mommies and daddies.  We read to teach them about themselves and living among others, about their world and their place in it.  We read to help them learn to think.  And in the process, we fervently hope – in fact it’s our duty – that we spark in them a sense of curiosity and a love of words, both so powerful that they will learn and love to read and to seek out answers on their own.

There’s an old joke about bringing up kids that goes something like this: We spend the first two years of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk.  Then we spend the next sixteen trying to get them to sit down and shut up.  Isn’t it more or less the same thing when, after we teach and encourage our children to explore the world through reading, we allow a book to be removed from a school curriculum or public library shelf because a vocal parent or small group in some way objects to its contents?

It happens more often that you might think.  Every year, for the past thirty years, the American Library Association has recorded all reported challenges and bans of books in schools and public libraries in the United States.  That’s hundreds of challenges every year.  And those are only the reported ones.  The ALA estimates that four out of five challenges go unreported.   Most of the challenges come from well-intentioned parents trying to protect their children from some difficult idea or information.  And that would be within their rights if they were protecting their children.  The problem, however, is that challenges and bans might also deprive other children whose parents don’t share the same objections.

The challenging or banning of a book is akin to pulling the reading rug right out from under our kids. Take a look at the ALA’s list of frequently challenged books of the 21st century.  You’ll see that along with the usual characters – Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and so on – are a host of children’s and young adult books, the very books that we should be thrilled that our children are reading.

Reading is an active process of discovery.  Our children will encounter new ideas and new ways of thinking; it’s bound to happen more and more as advances in technology continue to shrink our world and move us ever closer to true globalization.  If as responsible parents we embrace such encounters as teachable moments, helping our kids “enter into a dialogue” with what they are reading, instead of saying, emphatically, “NO, you can’t read that,” we will teach our children to truly think for themselves, to consider the tough questions of our world, to make it a better and more accepting place.

In a nation that bemoans the fact that our educational system and student performances are lagging behind those of other developed nations, why would we ever even consider, if we hope to regain the intellectual edge, denying our children the opportunity to think by preventing them from exploring through reading?  It may not sound quite as cuddly as what Emilie Buchwald says, but what a world of good we could do if we made our children thinking “readers on the laps of their parents,” and then let them read to their hearts’ content.

The American Library Association’s 30th Anniversary Banned Books Week observance is September 30-October 6.  Join your Howard County neighbors and supporters of your First Amendment rights.  Celebrate your freedom to read by reading a banned book – or by sharing one with your children.

Rick Leith
Assistant Professor of English
Howard Community College

Join HoCoPoLitSo and Howard Community College in their celebration of Banned Book Week at “Freedom to Read: The Historic Role of Grove Press in the Publication of Banned Books,” with Jeannette Seaver and Michael Dirda, Tuesday, October 2, 2-3:20 PM in Monteabaro Recital Hall in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College. The event is free and open to the public.

HoCoPoLitSo, HCC Celebrate Banned Books Week – 9/30-10/6

Co-chair of the HoCoPoLitSo board and Division Chair of English/World Languages at Howard Community College, Dr. Tara Hart previews a few upcoming Banned Book Week events in Howard County:

My New Jersey high school reading list made sure I met and never forgot Ray Bradbury’s perverse firemen, called to burn wherever books were found. Pop culture let rebellious ‘80s teens share Kevin Bacon’s Footloose character’s horror at finding that his new hometown is a place that incinerates piles of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five in front of the public library. Much more recently, Terry Jones’s treatment of the Koran lit a global flame that continues to profane what many hold sacred. Also, “Hundreds of books [including, ironically, Fahrenheit 451] have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States every year. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 326 in 2011.  ALA estimates that 70 to 80 percent are never reported,” (www.bannedbooksweek.org). We may not understand, or feel we understand all too well, what drives those who burn or strive to hide books, but the good news is that the drive to protest such destruction and suppression is loud and sustained.

The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) celebrates National Banned Books Week (September 30 – October 6, 2012) and our freedom to read by partnering with Howard Community College to present an important conversation between Jeannette Seaver, widow of publishing giant Richard Seaver, and Michael Dirda, Pulitzer-Prize-winning critic for the Washington Post, about the historic role of Grove Press in the publication of banned books through discussion of Richard Seaver’s extraordinary memoir, entitled The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the 50s, New York in the 60s: A Memoir of Publishing’s Golden Age (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).

“Dick” Seaver had a unique gift for recognizing, appreciating, and advocating for the translation and publication of previously unknown authors, especially Samuel Beckett, and was a unique presence in the publishing age that ultimately delivered to American readers, triumphing through much literal trial and other’s error, essential titles that continue to be challenged by contemporary citizens, including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Naked Lunch, The Story of O, The Tropic of Cancer, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  The memoir resonates, in spite of his modesty, with a spirit of highly intelligent discernment and sense of vocation that played an enormous role in revolutionizing the American literary landscape, leading it from priggishness to possibility.

Michael Dirda is a well-versed expert on such landscapes and an ideal conversational host for Ms. Seaver, who is fascinating in her own right as an accomplished musician and later publisher who shared her husband’s intellectual and professional life and has her own opinions of and experiences with many of the literati mentioned in the book. It promises to be an engrossing, important, provocative, and academically enriching event, so come join today’s literati at “Freedom to Read: The Historic Role of Grove Press in the Publication of Banned Books,” with Jeannette Seaver and Michael Dirda, Tuesday, October 2, 2-3:20 PM in Monteabaro Recital Hall in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College. The event is free and open to the public. Also check out HCC’s “parade” of banned books and the media clip festival that week.

Dr. Tara Hart
Board co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo

For more information, see

For event details, visit

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