“The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Red Badge of Courage,” “The Bluest Eye,” “The Kite Runner,” “Hop on Pop,” “1984,” “The Hunger Games,” the “Harry Potter” series, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Great Gatsby,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and even “The Bible.”
These books share little. Some are classics. Some are currently popular. Most are secular, though they may tap deeply spiritual roots. Only one is considered holy scripture by those who believe.
They share a common denominator, despite the disparity of theme, time, style and author — they’ve all been banned or challenged and are on Heather Chang’s display shelves at the high school/middle school library.
“Probably any book out there will offend somebody,” Chang said and these 80 or so books on display barely touch the list of offensive books.
Each year, the American Library Association takes the final week of September to highlight banned or challenged books and Chang, the library/media specialist for the high school/middle school, follows suit with her own display.
Chang includes a quote from the library association in her book exhibit, “Defend the First Amendment. Read a banned book.”
“This is a celebration of our freedom to read, to have free and open access to information,” said Chang.
The degree of action differentiates between a banned book and a challenged book. A challenged book means someone, generally a parent in the case of school libraries, finds the book offensive and/or inappropriate for students and has filed a complaint with the school librarian and/or the school committee. A banned book means the school committee agrees with the complaint and voted to remove the book from school shelves.
Students notice her display, Chang said, often expressing shock such books as “The Hunger Games” trilogy — a supreme irony since the books are about a central authority trying to maintain control of a post-apocalyptic America — or the “Harry Potter” series have been banned.
Some students even check out books on the display shelves, prompting Chang to replace them with another copy.
Chang has been a school librarian/media specialist for 17 years, in Ipswich for two, but has never experienced a book banning or a challenge.
“I’ve been lucky,” Chang said. “I’ve been in communities that value people’s own values in selecting what to read.”
Even though Chang keeps her library shelves open, she considers many factors before putting books on those shelves, especially since her library serves a wide range of students, from sixth graders on up to high school seniors.
Chang weighs awards books have won, teacher and student requests, curriculum and book reviews before selecting a title for her library.
After that winnowing process, Chang keeps an eye out for who is checking out what. Reading and maturity levels differ from student to student. She never forbids a student from checking out a book, but often encourages the student to read a few pages and see if they like the book or encourages a discussion between parents and the student to decide if the book is appropriate for a student.
“I have students come back with a book and say, ‘My mom didn’t like this one,’” Chang said. “Parents have a right to choose what their children will read, just not for someone else’s child.”