BBW: An actual true story

Once upon a time, fairly recently, I was in middle school.

For those of you who do not know me personally, it may help to set the scene if I describe the school itself: a quirky private school billed as a place where girls could be themselves and class sizes were strictly limited - my graduating class, in eighth grade, was 38. The school was built to scale, including a library that must have been (I swear this is true) roughly 10 feet by 10 feet. (I made it my mission to read that entire library from A to Z during my exploits as a middle schooler, and I actually succeeded. But that's a digression.)

As is characteristic of quirky schools, we had a quirky librarian. Some people remember teachers with fondness; I remember my librarians. On the particular day I am about to describe to you, however, my love for this librarian was sorely tested.

It was about a month after school had begun, and my friends and I met outside of the library, as was our norm, only to halt in the mid-morning air in horror. Our books, our favorite books, our beloved books, were locked in a glass cabinet across the way from the library. After storming into the library in a rage, our librarian  said only that some parents had objected to the material in those particular books (each one of the commonly banned books in the United States), and so the books would be locked away until further notice.

Well. We were intrepid middle schoolers, I must say, and faced with such a challenge, the removal of exceptional books from our already miniscule school library, we buckled down and got to work. First on the order of business was a petition we circulated among our classmates, accompanied by personal letters both to our librarian and the parents of the school, arguing for the release of certain prisoners of war, namely those locked behind glass. As the week progressed, we got more serious. Picket lines outside the library, with homemade signs proclaiming our right to read what we wanted, and in some cases costumes that expressed our love for these books. And of course, we thumbed our noses at the authority by bringing in our own copies of those banned books to school throughout the week.

And then it was Friday, and an impromptu assembly was held, purportedly to address the issue that had come up (that of inappropriate material in our school library). We held our breaths and marched to battle, our signs held high, and were met, surprisingly, by the sound of loud applause from our librarian. (Character description here: our librarian, musical-theatre-inclined, male, 6'7", and altogether wonderful.) The wind fell from our sails as we looked at each other, confused. We had passed a test, it seemed - but for what?

As it turned out, there had never been offended parents. Our librarian had locked up the books by himself, had pulled the proverbial wool over our eyes, had gotten the entire faculty to go along with it, all to demonstrate what happens when books you love get taken away. Why? Well...because it was Banned Books Week.

Nowadays it seems banned book awareness is everywhere, especially on the blogs, and increasingly (thankfully) in schools and other public places. But nine years ago I didn't know that much about the issue of banned books, not to mention Banned Books Week. I'd been shocked to discover that someone could take away something I took so much for granted, and depended upon for so much in my life.

What if the situation we found ourselves in that school morning had been real? What if a school parent really had protested, and books I truly loved (including the immortal Harry Potter) had been removed from the school library forever? Our relief when we discovered the hoax was palpable, but in all honesty not good enough, because things like this actually happen in school libraries across the country. Regularly. And so I have to be eternally grateful to my middle school librarian for opening my eyes to the issue, and, of course, for nurturing my love for books.

In closing, I must say that I have been so impressed by the amount of attention banned books are getting these days, but of course that doesn't go all the way toward solving the problem. So I implore you - pay attention to banned books (and all books in general, for that matter). Read them, love them, and don't let anyone tell you what you can and cannot read. You will be a better person for it.