At the recent 2019 American Library Association annual conference, held in Washington, D.C., the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) celebrated its 50th year in action! What a fifty years of full-steam advocacy and action it has been, the organization working tirelessly to defend and support the First Amendment.
What does the First Amendment and FTRF have to do with children’s literature? In one word: everything! We would not be as free to collect, share, disseminate and discuss children’s and young adult literature with Pre-K-12 students and young public library patrons without the work of this Foundation!
The FTRF has been a driving force in such Supreme Court decisions as 1978’s Island Trees Board of Education v. Pico, in which titles such as Go Ask Alice, Slaughterhouse-Five, and The Naked Ape were challenged and removed from a district’s middle and high school libraries. The Supreme Court noted in its decision: “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in these books and seek, by their removal, to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” This case remains the bulwark, the pillar, which allows school and youth services public librarians to collect children’s books which present varying and diverse viewpoints, themes, and ideas. Carry this decision in your pocket everyday; allow it to be your professional talisman (and do not lose it)!
In countless other local and state cases, FTRF has assisted in the legal defense which, for example, prevented the removal of the Harry Potter series, American Indian Myths and Legends, Heather Has Two Mommies, Daddy’s Roommate, and Persepolis. School librarians resisting censorship and the removal of certain works of children’s literature have also been defended and supported by FTRF over the years, for as Founder Judith Krug noted: “We want to provide as much information as we can and say to our users – ‘It’s all here. You make the choice.’
We all know the cycle favoring censorship is again rearing its ugly head. As the FTRF reports, “Most school challenges have to do with sex education and diversity issues. In Florida there are attempts to suppress information about evolution and climate change. In other places, there is continuing conflict about patriotism…” These reports remind us that non-fiction children’s literature and textbooks are just as vulnerable to challenges as fiction.
As an advocate of children’s literature and its wide dissemination (and wide READING), I urge you to find and READ the book published by FTRF for its 50th celebration: Reading Dangerously. Within the pages, you will find not only an introduction by Neil Gaiman and words of wisdom by Judith Krug, but also additional information about pertinent court cases, select excerpts from some of the most challenged children’s books of our times, as well as a discussion as to First Amendment issues on the horizon, for which we must be prepared.
As advocates of children’s literature and libraries, it is our urgent and preeminent duty to stand for the First Amendment, the ALA’s Freedom to Read Statement, and humanity’s basic right to free expression and thought! Here’s to another 50 years (plus plus) of success for FTRF!