Too Soon or Censorship? “The Librarian of Basra” & Third Graders

This morning’s news feeds boasted two stories that grabbed our attention, in particular because they dovetail so perfectly with the recent controversy in Chicago Public Schools surrounding Persepolis. 

One is about drama that has ensued after the California DOE decided to include more gay-themed books in its school curricula. This brings up vital curricular and cultural issues, but for the purposes of this post we’re going to stick with the story closer to home.

librarian of basra

From the ‘Librarian of Basra’

In New York City, the New York Post took an oblique angle in reporting the latest developments in the battles over Common Core Curriculum and school Board Control. Instead, CBS created a non-story about a single book: The Librarian of Basra by Jeannette Winter. The book is recommended reading on one of the modules created by Expeditionary Learning for the NYS Common Core ELA — modules that have been endorsed for voluntary use by New York Schools.

Librarian of Basra is the true story of a librarian who fought to save 30,000 volumes from being destroyed when American and British forces bombed Basra. It describes in a simple, tame way, the confusion and alarm of residents in the face of the war.

No one is actually calling for the removal of Librarian of Basra, leading me to posit that the Post is making a mountain out of a single grain of sand. Still, it touches on a very real impulse to shelter young people–whether they be children or teens– from the uglier side of life. To make education as un-informative and inane as possible. An impulse we see again and again and one that was presumably at play in Chicago as well.

Chicago Public Schools administrators claimed in a letter to Kids’ Right to Read that they felt they had to remove and re-evaluate Persepolis due to “graphic images of torture.” An earlier note sent to principals by CEO of schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett argued that the book contained “graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use in the seventh grade curriculum.”

Meanwhile, the students themselves who had actually read the book joined by the teachers who had actually been teaching the book staunchly defended it.

These “graphic” drawings help educate readers about historical events of real importance. Books like Persepolis and The Librarian of Basra teach students in America that war exists, it is real and it has real human consequences. They are learning these things in the safest and best-equipped environment imaginable — the classroom.

Rather than read the Post report, may I recommend you read the Gothamist’s take on the issue. The cited Louis CK joke about when to tell your kids about war id particularly comprehensive:

“In other countries, they don’t have a choice. In Afghanistan, they found out when they ask ‘How come Uncle Harry’s head is gone now?’ ‘Oh, ’cause the war.’ “


About Blog of the National Coalition Against Censorship

Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
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2 Responses to Too Soon or Censorship? “The Librarian of Basra” & Third Graders

  1. Pingback: The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq | Kristen's Reading Record

  2. Robert Brookes says:

    Our daughter is a teacher Western NY. She is a conscientious, caring and well trained teacher. Part of the State of NY’s curriculum has mandated certain books to be used in lesson plans. She did, incorporating them in a very clever and imaginative way. One of the books stirred ignorant controversy and hateful comments about her choice of book. She chose an approved book, The Librarian of Basra by JEANETTE WINTER. The book is about a librarian who safeguards 30,000 books during the Iraqi war.

    Some parents were offended that their child (3rd grade) would think that the US Army was portrayed as aggressors! They totally missed the point of the book and also the point of the lesson. They called her anti American for using that book. The protagonist in the book was willing to sacrifice her life to save the books. Now our daughter is the brunt of a campaign against her for following the requirements of the state as well as creating a thoughtful social studies lesson.

    My daughter lived with us in Argentina (we went through the Falklands War), in Turkey and England. She returned with a keen appreciation for the US and our freedoms. Her mother is a first generation immigrant having escaped Nazi Germany where book burning and censorship was the norm.

    Of course most were influenced by the use of twitter and facebook in their assessment of the book. Censorship and the PC police at work in America!

    Bob Brookes
    Miami, Florida

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