By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The Morinville Public Library has loaded its shelves with a collection of banned and challenged books and hope patrons will read them this week. But the real shock value is that many of the books were ever banned or challenged in the first place.
The scandalous collection of prose is all part of the library’s participation in Freedom to Read Week, an annual event that reminds Canadians of the freedom to express ideas and communicate those ideas through the medium of the printed word.
“We’re raising awareness that books have been banned and that a lot of the common books have been banned,” said Librarian April Heppleston. “Alice in Wonderland has been banned in some places. There’s everything from that to Mein Kampf, which is still banned in Germany. It’s a 70 year ban they did in Germany.”
Heppleston said people can often be upset when they see Mein Kampf on a library shelf, but it is important to have the book so people can understand the history of the Holocaust and the mindset of Hitler.
But while Mein Kampf being on a list of banned books may come as no surprise, others can leave one scratching their heads. Heppleston said Huckleberry Finn, Little House on the Prairie, Macbeth and All Quiet on the Western Front, even the Bible, have all been banned or challenged over the years.
“I know All Quiet on the Western Front was [for] political reasons,” Heppleston said. “It was speaking against the Wehrmacht [Germany’s unified armed forces] and that was just not done at that time. So, ultimately, Nazi Germany burned that book.”
But not all books have been banned for political reasons. Heppleston explained Little Red Riding Hood was banned because the cover depicted Little Red Riding Hood carrying a basket in which was placed a bottle of wine. Another cover that has caused a harsh reaction over the years is Rabbit’s Wedding.
“This is my all time favourite banned book,” Heppleston said. “It was banned in the 1950s. The cover is dandelions and two little rabbits hopping along together hand in hand. One rabbit is a white rabbit, but one’s a black rabbit. That was [perceived as] promoting racial integration.”
Heppleston said each year the library brings in and highlights books that have been banned and encourage patrons to read the books so as to make up their own minds whether they think it is a book that should be available.
But while the list of banned books may remain similar from year to year, the library always tries to have a different theme to raise awareness of those books.
“Last year I chained books together so there were stacks of books that were chained together,” Heppleston said. “This year the spin is more of the societal / cultural taboos of reading the wrong thing and receiving the wrong materials.”
Playing off that idea, the library has chosen to use the plain brown wrapper concept, long a code for concealing certain books and magazines one would not want their neighbours to know they read. The library’s showcase window has been in a plain brown wrapper for the past couple of weeks and will be unveiled Tuesday morning.
Behind that wrapper, at least figuratively, are visuals of the pinup girl, an iconic image that is displayed on a number of posters in the library and on a number of giveaways the library has brought in for patrons who read one of the library’s banned books. Patrons who take out and read one of the books can enter their name in a draw to win one of three giveaways.
“All three of these have a graphic on it of a pinup girl reading a banned book,” Heppleston said. “And we will have a pinup girl in the library – not every day of that week – but visiting and promoting this program.”
Heppleston said the pinup girl concept was the idea of Library Manager Isabelle Cramp.
“We wanted to catch the attention of the public and what better way?” Heppleston said, adding it’s a stark departure from the stereotype of librarians running around telling people to be quiet. “Libraries are no longer the shushy places and we do more than read books at the library.”
Freedom to Read Week takes place at the Morinville Public Library from Feb. 22 to 26.