Challenged in Canada: Tracking Attempts at Censorship

Banned Books week is next month, and right now I am working with my department on a presentation about censorship in Canada to share with our coworkers.

I made a collage of some of the titles that we currently have in our library which have been challenged in Canada in the past:

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The diversity in even this small representation shows that challenges are submitted on titles from a wide range of subjects, authors, formats, and intended age ranges. Maybe you see some of your favorites up there? These are only a small portion of books that have been challenged in Canada in recent years.

I’m sure there are tons more challenges that aren’t ever submitted for record-keeping. It’s important that we keep records like this of materials that are challenged, because it serves as a real-life reminder and example of how everyone’s standards are different. If we start censoring information, each act of censorship may be perceived as a precedent, and since one person’s treasure is another person’s trash… I know it’s overused, but the term “slippery slope” definitely comes to mind.

Access is vital. Even titles that contain extremely problematic information and views can serve as reminders of past atrocities, case studies for learning, and material for developing informed criticism. How can you knowledgeably criticize or condemn something if you don’t have access to the source material?

Freedomtoread.ca offers a book list keeping track of Canadian challenges, each of which “sought to limit public access to the works in schools, libraries, or bookstores.”

Freedom to Read week is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, and is celebrated annually in February.

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Here are the details of some recent challenges as recorded by the Freedom to Read website.

 

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

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2016-In January, a patron of a public library in Ontario challenged this novel for young adults.

Objections: “The book is age inappropriate… because it contains a bi-sexual sex scene not alluded to on the cover.” The complainant requested that all books with homosexual content be located “in a special area reserved for adults 18+” and put on a shelf marked with a rainbow. The complainant wanted the books labelled “so that children, as well as adults, do not happen upon [them] unwillingly.”

Result: The library decided that labeling LGBTQ content would be an example of expurging library resources and, therefore, would violate the Library Bill of Rights… The Scorpion Rules remained unlabelled in its usual location.

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

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2016- In May, a parent in a public library in Ontario challenged this graphic novel for children.

Objection: The parent disliked depictions of violence and the book’s “poor attitude toward women’.

Result: In June, the library resolved the challenge. The library moved this book from the children’s section to the teens’ graphic-novel section.

The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel, Volumes 1 & 2) by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

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2015/16- In December 2015, a parent challenged this children’s picture book in a public library in Ontario.

Objection: the mother didn’t specify what action she wanted, but she used the complaint form to complain about the book’s illustrations. her 10-year old son was crying because of the illustrations.

Result: After evaluating The Graveyard Book by checking other libraries’ collections and book reviews, the library retained the books in its collection.

 

Adult Magazines

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2015- A patron in a public library in British Columbia challenged the collection of electronic magazines (from the Zinio distribution service) and paper magazines. The challenge affected a minimum of 17 titles: Cosmopolitan, Details, Esquire, Glamour, GQ, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Redbook, Rolling Stone, SELF, Seventeen, Shape, Sports Illustrated, Teen Vogue, US Weekly, and Women’s Health.

Objections: Sexism, insensitivity, inaccuracy, depiction of bodies that are “negatively objectified”. The patron demanded that all subscriptions be cancelled.

Result: The library kept the magazines and the subscriptions. They were popular with other readers.

 

Young Adult LGBTQ Publications

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2016- In July, a female parent in the St. Albert Library in Alberta challenged all young-adult LGBTQ publications in a teen summer reading program

The library displayed pamphlets that listed the young-adult LGBTQ book titles in the summer reading program.

Objection: The parent was offended by the inclusion of queer lit as one of the book category choices in a turn of the library’s Teen Summer Reading Game.

“There is a difference between showing respect for all peoples and using the summer reading program as a place to further LGBTQ propaganda,” the woman wrote. “My son recognizes that there are people who choose to live this lifestyle; however, it is not a healthy lifestyle to promote to our youth, and it is contrary to God’s plan for human sexuality, love and marriage.”

Result: The Teen Librarian inferred that the patron wanted the queer lit category removed from the Teen Summer Reading Game book category choices and that she may have wanted the queer lit booklist removed from the brochure display in the teen area of the library.

After reading the parent’s comments, the Teen Librarian wrote a letter which was given directly to the patron when she brought her child back to play the reading game. The Teen Librarian informed her supervisors of the challenge and consulted with them on the content of the letter before it was delivered. The queer lit category remained a choice for one turn of the 2016 Teen Summer Reading Game, and the queer lit booklist remained on display with the other booklists in the teen area of the library.

*Note from Shauna: How awesome, informative, and professional is this letter!? Amazing.

Here is the body of the letter:

“Thank you for expressing your concerns about the inclusion of the Queer Lit category in the St. Albert Public Library’s Teen Summer Reading Game. As stated in the Guidelines for the 2016 Teen Summer Reading Game on the player dossier:

‘There are multiple categories listed for each turn of the game. Choose just one of those categories to select your reading material from.’In other words, players are not required to read from any one book category to advance to the next turn of the game.
“For the Mission Nighthawk turn of the game, three categories are provided for
players to choose a book from: In Real Life (realistic fiction), Romance, or Queer Lit. Players can select a book that fits into any of these three categories. Librarians
recognize that not all books are suited to all readers. Library patrons have a choice in what they read.
“As the Teen Librarian, I am responsible for creating a reading program for teen
participants that encourages them to read over the summer, for selecting books for the Young Adult collections, and for making booklists to help teen patrons discover books of interest to them. The St. Albert Public Library serves all members of the community, regardless of age, race, faith, education level, income, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic background, or language spoken. We serve LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) youth, and the Library is a safe public space for them to visit.
“Many of these young people, as part of an invisible minority, have learned to be
secretive about their sexual identity or gender identity for fear of rejection from their peers or their own families. They experience isolation and are often victims of bullying. For these youth, a realization that there are library materials available to them which address LGBTQ identities and issues can help them to become more resilient and to feel that they have a place in society.
“Including the Queer Lit category in the Teen Summer Reading Game is a way to
raise awareness of the existence of LGBTQ materials in the Young Adult Collection, and it communicates to our patrons that the library is a welcoming place for all people. Having LGBTQ material available in the Young Adult collections and on book displays alongside other materials, not hidden away, helps to create an atmosphere of acceptance.
“If you would like further information on the importance of LGBTQ Collections
in public libraries, I can direct you to some journal articles on the topic. Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions.”
After receiving the letter, the mother did not contact the Teen Librarian or take
any further action regarding her challenge. Her son did complete the Teen Summer Reading Game and received a book prize. The family continues to regularly participate in programs at the St. Albert Library.

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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2014- In Camloops, B.C., Dean Audet demanded the removal of this coming-of-age novel from his son’s high school and other schools in the Kamloops/Thompson school district.

Objection: Audet described the novel as “pornographic, offensive and vulgar”.

Result: Audet’s son was given a different book to study. A committee of teachers, a parent and librarians reviewed the novel and approved it for continued use. Audet considered taking legal action to remove the novel from schools.

 

Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman

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2014- In August, a patron of a public library in Alberta objected to this children’s picture book.

Objection: The patron disliked the theme of same-sex marriage.

Result: On the same day, the library resolved the dispute and kept the book in the collection.

 

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett

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2014- in May a parent complained about this children’s picture book in a library in Quebec.

Objections: The parent disliked the depictions of violence and didn’t think the book was funny. Her 10-year-old child was “traumatised” by the bunny’s “exceedingly violent” actions, she said. Many parents would share her opinion, she added, and she asked the library to remove the book from its collection.

Result: Librarians evaluated the book. They agreed that it was a work of humour and satire. They thought Battle Bunny could appeal to reluctant readers. The librarians also noted that professional book reviews were positive and that four previous borrowers of the book had made no complaints. Battle Bunny remained in the library’s collection.

 

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

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2014- In November, a patron of a public library in Alberta said this audiobook needed a warning label on the cover.

Objection: This book has dark, adult content.

Result: The library kept the book in the collection.

 

Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss

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Toronto

Objection: Violence. In this children’s book, children hop on their father. The complainant argued that children are being “encouraged to use wanton violence against their fathers.”

Result: The library kept the book in its collection. In an e-mailed message to the complaining parent, the library explained that its collection aims to reflect the reading needs of diverse individuals and communities (cultural, ethnic, or religious). The library relied on parents to involve themselves in their children’s use of the library and their children’s reading choices.

 

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore

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2013- In Strathmore, Alta, a parent complained about the inclusion of this graphic novel in the library at Crowther Memorial Junior High School.

Objection: The parent objected to “extreme violence and swearing” in the text.

Result: A committee reviewed The Walking Dead and deemed it inappropriate for use in a junior high school. The book was withdrawn from the collection.

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Consuming vs. Creating

I wish I could find the exact quote; I read a book once, a good few years ago (I can’t even remember what book it was). I have no recollection what the book itself was even about, but I do remember this: the author quoted someone who said something like “if you aren’t actively creating, you’re just a consumer”. That simple, harsh truth really stuck with me.

Back then I realized that, for a variety of reasons at that particular moment in my life (okay… decade of my life) I was barely creating anything. I was solely consuming in all meanings of the word- consuming food, entertainment, and material goods mindlessly. I wasn’t using my creative mind in my job, in my hobbies, or in my day to day life. I was spending way too much time scrolling endless junk articles on my phone. I’d lost my teenage penchant for writing poems and playing with visual art.

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^Ignoring my friends for my phone? >.>

I don’t want to come off as preachy- technology is super useful, and we use our cell phones for so much more than distraction seeking. Plus, it’s fun and recharging to do mindless things once in a while, and I have abandoned the term “guilty pleasure” because if you love something, why should you feel guilty about enjoying it? Speaking of which, read this awesome blog post by @biblionyan on the topic of guilty pleasures!

But that’s the thing; this “guilty pleasure” pastime of scrolling and losing myself in click-bait wasn’t actually enjoyable for me. It was just a habitual, unfulfilling distraction I automatically turned to because it was easy and gave me a hit of dopamine.

I knew I wanted to spend more time creating again and really using my free time to learn new things and develop new skills, but for some reason this mindset just didn’t stick. I’d read an inspirational book, or watch a documentary, and feel motivated- for a couple of days. Then I’d fall back into the same stale routines.

Happily, I have now gotten to a place where I am creating and living so much more again. I am writing, drawing, painting, dancing, studying, traveling, and learning new skills like public speaking. I’m seeking out new opportunities rather than hiding from them. This has come about in the last two to three years. How did I get my creative spark back? Why hadn’t I been able to reignite it sooner?

My anxiety and depression were holding me back.

I unpacked about my struggles with anxiety and depression in a blog post recently, which you can read here. Long story short, after years of battling these issues, talking to counselors, and trying lots of methods unsuccessfully to manage, I finally tried medication prescribed by my doctor, and it helps me so much. Life is exciting and fun again. I feel like the old self I once knew and lost somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

The passion for my job at the library, which I knew was lurking inside me, finally bloomed. I worked on building up my self-confidence from my lowest low. I started seeking out new opportunities instead of waiting to be asked. I began using my creativity more in work projects, and at home.

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Feeling lifted out of the muck, I sought out new hobbies: handbell choir, dance classes, sewing, yoga, cosplay, crafting, dabbling with ukulele, volunteering at the SPCA. I even helped out with some small roles in a local web-series created by-nerds-for-nerds. Speaking of which, my dorky fangirl self, who had been hiding in a sort of shame cave, fearing judgement of others, emerged proudly once again.

I started creating visual art again, something that I had largely abandoned in the height of my anxiety and depression. Before long it became a familiar habit. I get a regular urge to create art now, and when I get into my flow several hours can pass without my realizing.

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I’ve since started sharing my art in small local galleries & markets, and online. Sharing my art and creative projects with the world brings me joy.

I think that everyone has the capacity to be creative in their own way. Sometimes we get bogged down by a narrow idea of what “creativity” means, but we can be creative in so many different ways- at our jobs, around our homes, through the clothes and accessories we wear, or in our gardens, for example. Right now I am slowly but surely working on a goal of being more creative in the kitchen with baking and cooking.

Speaking of infusing creativity into our daily lives, recently I came across this extremely interesting Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about the roots of joy.

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She presented her insights about some of the universal triggers of joy as discovered through studies of people all around the world- things like bright colours, soft shapes, fractal patterns, novelty, abundance, a feeling of light and air.

Two take-aways that stuck with me:

  1. Why,  if these playful, colourful, and creative expressions bring us joy and increase our happiness and productivity, do we design so many aspects of our homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and streets in uninspiring, predictable shapes, and shades of beige and grey?
  2. Why do we judge people who embrace colour and creativity in their own lives, in what they wear, how they decorate and so on, by labeling them as kooky, emotional, unprofessional, or “girly”?

I think we can learn so much from people who incorporate fun fearlessly into their lives (or rather, refuse to let go of it just because they are getting older). I’m fascinated by people like Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Elizabeth Sweetheart who present themselves however feels right to them, and don’t give a flying fluevog what society thinks of them for being different. Thanks to social media like Instagram, it’s easier than  ever to find unapologetically creative people and bold sartorial inspiration.

A potential struggle for being creative is the busy lives we lead- there were times when I thought “how will I possibly have time to finish this personal project”? But as with anything in life, you make time for what is important to you, what makes you happy and fulfills you. I work on art during my work breaks sometimes, and because I consider my art time important for my well-being, I will pass up invitations or events on occasion if I know I haven’t had time to paint in a while. I am lucky to work at a library where I have the option of using my creativity on a regular basis such as illustrating the Joke of the Day, making fun book displays, or drawing pictures to accompany my power-point slides!

Yes, I still check my phone, yes I still watch Netflix and play video games, but when I do I always aspire to be mindful and intentional with this use of my precious time, and avoid getting lost in zombie-like distraction. Time is the most important commodity we have, and in this often cruel and unfair world I’m privileged to be a healthy woman living in a safe country where I have the gift of free time to explore my creativity. I don’t want to squander that.

Freeing myself from depression and intense anxiety has enabled me to enjoy my life and creativity to the fullest. I am glad that the days of dragging my feet through life are behind me. After 10 years of waking up with sighs of fatigue and defeat, sighs of contentment are a welcome change. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I don’t know where to start, so I am dipping my toes into everything.

I wish I could share this wake-up call with the world (well, that’s what a blog is for, I guess) but I think that, first and foremost, it’s something that you need to truly want for yourself.

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#goodmorning #jasper #alberta #canada #travel #mountains

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Beasts of Burden- A New Comic Fave!

A lovely woman at the Comic Hunter shop in Charlottetown PEI highly recommended this book, and it was an easy sell for her because I love dogs, I love comics, I love dark and creepy stories, and I love it when someone shares their favorite reads with me!

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If you aren’t into animal stories, I’d suggest you still give this one a chance, because this series is more than meets the eye. While it’s full of sniffing-sleuth shenanigans and humour, the series focuses on arcane paranormal activities, strange creatures, and carnage!

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I felt there was a very good balance between each story, flowing from disturbing tales into more (relatively) lighthearted stuff and with bits of charm and laughs throughout. Jill Thompson’s gorgeous watercolour illustrations are perfect for this comic- together with Dorkin’s writing the characters really come to life, each with their own distinct personalities. I have a fondness for Pugsly!

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Highly recommended!

 

 

*note: this review also appears on my Goodreads 🙂

Spoiler-Free Review: Displacement by Lucy Knisley

Dustin and I are enroute home to Alberta from our 2 week vacation visiting my parents in NB.

Our flights got changed unceremoniously at 3am last night, so while we got a lot more sleep than we were expecting, we now have a really weird mishmash of flights and a 7 hour layover in Toronto.

To look at the bright side, though, I’ve got a ton of ebooks downloaded from Hoopla and Overdrive, and lots of time to catch up on my reading!

Lucy Knisley is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read several of her graphic novels, which are gorgeous, comedic, and full of honest, sometimes uncomfortable, reflections on life.

I enjoy the messy truth of an honest memoir, and Lucy never disappoints. I am currently drafting a comic memoir of my own, and Knisley’s work played a big part in opening my eyes to the versatility and potential of the comic format for memoirs.

ANYHOO, without further ado, here is my review of Displacement (as posted on my Goodreads).

Another fascinating personal memoir from Lucy Knisely- this time on a cruise ship with her grandparents who are in their 90’s and facing debilitating physical and mental health problems.

Lucy doesn’t censor her thoughts, even when they don’t cast her in the most positive light. She struggles with her inner criticisms, her candid thoughts, and her desire to understand her elderly grandparents.

As with her other works, this beautifully illustrated comic memoir is a mixture of self reflection, emotion, reminiscence, people-watching, existential pondering, and comic exasperation.

I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of Lucy’s situation on the ship paired with snippets from her grandfather’s war journal.

Yes, it is hard to confront aging, infirmity and death, but Knisley does it with love and honesty. It’s always a treat to read her work.

Librarians, ghosts, mental-health & diverse characters: A Spoiler-Free Review of Archival Quality

Yesterday I was examining our library’s New Book display, as I am wont to do, and I noticed this book:

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Graphic novels are one of my passions, so poked through it and soon realized that this book was SO relevant to my interests that I had to read it immediately.

It’s a book featuring:

  • diverse characters
  • ghosts and creepiness
  • a librarian as the main character
  • reflections on mental health

So, I scarfed it down on my lunch break!

Weir and Steenz have created a compelling mystery buoyed along by a wonderfully morbid setting and interesting characters. The style of the graphic art is lovely, and for that alone I’d be glad to have this book on my shelf.

Capture33^A poignant observation from the beginning of the book: If I had to visualize it, I’d say it makes me think about the walls that protect beach towns from flooding. The water rises and then retracts, and the wall holds, but it leaves line marks. You can tell it’s been there. You know it’s coming back.

There were a few places that the story fell a bit flat (some plot points needed further explanation or illustration, and the ending felt a tad rushed to me) but overall I enjoyed this story.

I give it 4 glaring skulls out of 5!