Fundraiser fetes Freedom to Read Week

Two award-winning Canadian children’s authors feel that parents who oppose the use of school learning materials risk alienating their children.

L. M. Falcone and Helaine Becker volunteered at “Banned Together,” a fundraiser and celebration for Freedom to Read week.

The event, organized by PEN Canada and the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), featured best-selling authors reading from books that have been removed from schools and libraries internationally. Falcone criticized parents who claim they’re experts in their own professions and teaching too.

“Why do they believe that they’re more qualified to judge whether or not this book is appropriate in the classroom than a high school teacher who has had years of training and experience?” she said.

Falcone and Becker discussed the recent controversy surrounding The Handmaid’s Tale — Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian vision that was challenged for the first time in a Toronto school last year. The Toronto District School Board rendered a decision in the challenge last week, supporting the continued inclusion of the novel in the curriculum for Grades 11 and 12.

A 24-page report by the review committee stated the TDSB’s position.

“(The book) furthers the positive goals of TDSB’s Anti-sexism and Gender Equality policy (and) enables students to understand the importance of ethno-cultural equity to just societies,” the review said.

Author Becker echoed Falconi’s criticism of those who campaigned to have The Handmaid’s Tale removed from school bookshelves.

“Children, who are the ones … learning the most … are being prevented access by people who think they know better, and many of them don’t,” Becker said. “I think that [children] will still find the material. If anything, all it does is teach them that they can’t respect adults’ decisions.”

Patricia Aldana, book publisher and president of IBBY International, spoke to those attending the Banned Together event. She commented about prior TDSB decisions to eliminate controversial works from school reading programs.

“One of things about censorship that is really terrible is that it not only prevents us from reading what we want to read, but it prevents voices from being heard,” she said.

Becker agreed, claiming that is often takes a single a complaint to have materials removed from schools and libraries.

“Very few voices can really put the brakes on a book,” Becker said.

Filed by Lara Willis