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FLOWERS: Literature, Art and Truth, Oh My

My happy place, my “safe space,” so to speak, has always been a bookstore.

As a young girl, I spent an inordinate amount of time strolling through the aisles of stores like the Book End at the Manoa Shopping Center, Waldenbooks at the Springfield Mall, and B.Dalton at the corner of 15th and Market in Philadelphia. Unlike libraries, which demanded silence and only promised to “lend” you these precious literary gems, bookstores allowed you to actually take home, forever, beloved titles like “Anne of Green Gables,” “Once and Future King,” “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “Little Town on the Prairie,” “Gone With The Wind,” “Madame Bovary,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Red Badge of Courage,” and “Dr. Zhivago.”

The other reason I wasn’t a big fan of libraries was that I always managed to fall so deeply in love with a book that I procrastinated and rarely ever brought it back on time. I could have fed a small village in Botswana for a decade with the overdue fees I paid from 1974 to 1982.

So it hurts me to write anything that is even vaguely negative about a bookstore, especially if it is one of the few that is still operating in the city, one that is located a 15-minute walk from my front door. It pains me to have to criticize a place that, even though it no longer has a café and thinks patrons don’t need to use the bathroom, however still has a wonderful selection of magazines, records, and entirely unnecessary candles.

I am talking about the Barnes and Noble between 17th and 18th on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.

But something so annoying happened the other day that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, so I made a Facebook post that, as of this writing, has been shared over 50 times. I took a picture of a display near the front door with several bookshelves under a poster that said, “Discover What Banned Books You’ve Been Missing.” Some of the titles were confusing, like “James and the Giant Peach” and “Where’s Waldo,” whereas others, like “Gender Queer” and “This Book Is Gay,” left no doubt as to why they were controversial. When I looked closer, I saw that the workers at the store had put index cards explaining why each book had been “challenged,” which is entirely different from being banned. In fact, as a friend rightly noted, if I’m looking at the book and it’s for sale, it’s not “banned.”

I wrote this to accompany the picture:

“Let’s look at why Barnes and Noble is upset.

Gender Queer: “banned” because of sexual content.

All Boys Aren’t Blue: “banned” because of sexual content.

The Bluest Eye: “banned” because of sexual content.

The Handmaid’s Tale: “banned” because of sexuality, suicide, anti-Christian themes

“Lawn Boy”: “banned” because of sexual content

“Harry Potter”: “banned” because of poor social values

“James And The Giant Peach”: “banned” because of witchcraft, sexual references

“This Book is Gay”: “banned” because of… oh, just guess.

Again, none of the books were banned. Their appropriateness for certain age groups was challenged. And virtually every one was challenged over sex. Gotta wonder why school administrators would be surprised that parents who want their children to learn about math and not masturbation, about social studies and not social perversions, about history and not his/her/their pronouns, about trans-Atlantic treaties and not trans insanity, would question their literary choices.”

My point is that lying about book banning is dangerous when that is not happening.

It was wrong for Amanda Gorman to lie about her book of poetry, “The Hill We Climb,” being banned when it was simply not included in a middle school curriculum. It is wrong for people to suggest that keeping pornographic materials from the eyes of 6-8th gradersviolatesf the First Amendment.

And for those parents who say that they actually want their kids to read these “challenged” books, they can buy them and read them together with their kids before bedtime. Nothing is stopping those children from having access to these literary gems. It’s just common sense not to want certain messages and certain messengers in a school setting.

As someone who deals with people who actually have been prevented from reading books, people from China and Albania, and countries in the Middle East where possession of the Bible will get you imprisoned, that Barnes and Noble display angered me.

It should anger anyone who cares about literature, art, and the truth.


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Sen. Cappelletti Announces Bill to Stop ‘Book Bans’

Delaware Valley’s Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery/Delaware) has proposed a bill to ban “book bans” in Pennsylvania libraries.

“The American Library Association documented the highest number of attempted book bans last year since it began compiling data more than 20 years ago. Pennsylvania ranks among the worst states in book-banning efforts, where there were 56 attempts to ban 302 unique titles,” Cappelletti said in a statement. “Of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community or by and about Black, Indigenous, and people of color.”

“As libraries and librarians nationwide face unprecedented censorship of books and resources, Illinois recently became the first state to prevent publicly-funded institutions from banning books and other materials. Pennsylvania should follow closely behind.”

But many parents say Cappelletti has it wrong. They say books such as “Gender Queer” or “Push” contain pornographic images, and curating what books to keep on the shelves is a basic task of a library. Plus, the books are just a click away for purchase online.

Radnor dad, Mike Lake, said, “The senator has a law degree and is no dummy. She knows the definition of child porn and the Pennsylvania and federal laws defining the penalties. It’s disappointing, but not surprising, how she uses the books banned by her own progressive colleagues (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Diary of a Young Girl” about Anne Frank) as justification for allowing minors to continuous access to taxpayer-funded child pornography. I feel like I am watching the fall of Rome play out in 4K.”

Fenecia Redman is a Malvern mom who sued the Great Valley School District over books with graphic images in the high school library and spoke to the state legislature to try to get those books removed. “I refuse to believe Sen. Cappelletti, an attorney, formerly a child advocate, has seen the graphic sexually explicit material available to minor children in public schools and deemed it educational,

“Redman said. “She’s now the minority chair on the same Senate government committee I testified before. I encourage her to watch my testimony, posted by some on her Facebook page. It’s shocking and painful to watch but necessary to inform her, a new mom, of the gravity of this emotional and psychological child abuse. Federal laws 18 USC 1470 and 1466A are unambiguous. She can make a difference in protecting all children from state-sponsored child abuse.”

Most recently, the Central Bucks School Board came under attack from the ACLU and progressive activists when it developed a policy that allowed parents to flag books for review that they believed were problematic.

“The idea of banning books is a direct contradiction to First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press, integral elements of democracy,” Cappelletti said. “Americans have a right to explore and engage with differing perspectives to form their own views. Public libraries are places where young people should be able to learn about themselves and people who are different from them, not denied access to the diverse perspectives that books and art offer us all.

“My legislation will require Pennsylvania’s State Librarian and our local libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which states that materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval, and to develop a written statement that prohibits the local library from banning books or other materials. Libraries that do not comply will be denied state funding.”

Cappelletti claimed the issue was not partisan. Instead, she said polling showed voters “across the political spectrum oppose book bans and have confidence in libraries to make good decisions about their collections.”


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OPINION: Haverford’s Curriculum Curation Doesn’t Get the Same Treatment as Other Districts’ in the Mainstream Press

This editorial first appeared in Broad + Liberty

Students and activists at Haverford Middle School are seeking to prohibit the use of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the school’s English curriculum due to concerns of racially insensitive language in the book.

Actually, let’s try that again: students and activists at Haverford Middle School are trying to BAN BOOKS that teach critical lessons about the history of racial injustices in the American South.

Is that inflammatory enough?

It’s true that activist students are trying to rid the middle school curriculum of a classic yet difficult read about America’s history of racial inequalities, and it’s true that this is rooted in a belief that certain speech and words ought to be restricted in the classroom without exception.

But the notion that this is a “book ban” is nonsense — and the people who oppose the book’s inclusion in the curriculum are presumably well-intentioned.

The public seems to be at a consensus about this — nobody is calling Haverford’s curriculum review a “book ban” or attributing malicious intentions to the students and activists seeking the book’s removal, and for good reason.

Yet, you can count on the use of this sort of rhetoric within most articles you read about “book bans” in high school and middle schools nationwide.

What stands out about the Haverford case is that, under the new definition of “book ban” the media has created and weaponized, these discussions at Haverford should be held on par with cases like those in Central Bucks and the Bob Graham Education Center in Miami.

The Central Bucks School District came under fire for removing the graphic novel “Gender Queer” from its school libraries due to parent concerns about the book depicting oral sex between two teenagers. Opponents of the removal deemed it a “book ban” and characterized the district’s decision as homophobic — and of course, the media ran with this idea.

At Bob Graham Elementary, Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem was moved from a shelf in a library media center for grade-schoolers and put on a shelf for middle-schoolers. Jonah Goldberg wrote an excellent piece highlighting the media’s abrupt characterization of this move as a “book ban.” Get a load of some of the headlines Goldberg cites about this:

Vox: The latest book ban target: Amanda Gorman’s poem from the Biden inauguration

Daily MailMiami elementary school BANS students from reading poem Amanda Gorman recited at Biden’s inauguration after parent complained it spread ‘hate messages’

ABCPoet Amanda Gorman criticizes book ban effort in Florida targeting Biden’s inauguration poem

So why is it that the situations in Central Bucks and Bob Graham were considered “book bans,” yet Haverford Middle School gets a pass for pulling one of the most influential anti-racist, anti-Jim Crow literary works of all time, with the media characterizing it as a “curriculum review?”

This is not to say that any of these instances should be referred to as a “book ban” — there is simply a noticeable difference in how the requirements to be considered a “book ban” in the media seemingly change on a case-by-case basis. None of the cases mentioned above are actual book bans.

Up until recently, most of the world seemed to agree that a book readily available and legal to purchase and possess is not “banned.” In the case of Central Bucks, it appears that students aren’t even technically prohibited from possessing “Gender Queer” at school — it’s just not available for checkout at the school library anymore.

What at first appears to be the typical melodrama we’ve come to expect from political activists is starting to seem like a politically motivated collaboration between those on the Left and the complicit media to redefine and weaponize the term “book ban.”

A term which, prior to its recent redefinition, was a pre-existing term that did, and still, means something truly awful in many parts of the world where people are routinely jailed or killed for possessing or authoring certain books.

By traditional definitions, the “book bans” that have made headlines in recent years have been outright failures considering that, despite some books being removed from school libraries, you can still find them on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, at public libraries, or any chain or local bookstore that may be carrying them.

However, the fear-inducing reputation of historical “book bans” are part of the appeal of utilizing this term to elicit an emotional, mobilizing response from school communities, thus leveraging the power of demonstrators to serve political purposes which, in this case, favor the Left.

Realistically, would the media have described this effort in Haverford as a “book ban” if it were being led by right-wing, anti-CRT activists who believed the book, or the way it was being taught, was too racially divisive for young students and thus should be pulled?

Is it unrealistic to imagine they’d be dragged through the mud like Ron DeSantis when his administration rejected an AP African American history course due to its perceived divisiveness and basis in CRT?

Despite all of this, the people who organize against perceived “book bans” are, indeed, probably well-intentioned — specifically those who are concerned about free speech and ready access to controversial thoughts and ideas. However, it appears they are being misled by those who benefit from the chaos caused by these widely overblown stories.

Ultimately what one believes students ought to have access to in school is extremely subjective and, in the instance of library books, really ought to be viewed on a case-by-case basis.

And if you really feel strongly about having a particular book available to you or someone you know, Google it and you’ll probably find it available to read or purchase. Let’s stop being so theatrical about it.

Philly Dem Files Bill to Strip School Boards of Power to ‘Ban’ Books

State Rep. Christopher Rabb plans to reintroduce a bill that would prevent what he calls “book banning” by school boards, arguing that only school employees — and not elected officials — should have that power.

Rabb, a Philadelphia Democrat, told Delaware Valley Journal that the bill is needed as districts are pulling books from shelves over parents’ concerns about sexually graphic or racially inflammatory content.

“It’s in response to rampant censorship efforts in school districts statewide,” said Rabb, when asked if he was targeting the Central Bucks School District in particular. That district has come under fire after the school board voted to institute a process where community members can ask that books be reviewed. A spokesperson for the district declined to comment on Thursday.

Image from “Gender Queer,” one of the books parents object to.

Rabb circulated a sponsoring memo about the bill in October and Reps. Nancy Guenst (D-Hatboro) and Ben Sanchez (D-Abington) signed on as co-sponsors.

Rabb’s bill died in the 2021-22 session without leaving the education committee.

That memo said, “These book bans are an attempt to censor educators and restrict the information and educational materials that students can have access to in school. In addition, these effectively unilateral decisions made by school boards are extremely harmful to LGBTQ+ youth and students of color given that the subjects discussed in these so-called ‘inappropriate’ and ‘explicit’ books often discuss many serious and real issues impacting these communities.”

Rabb argued elected school board members should not have the power to make decisions about educational materials. That power, he said, should be in the hands of school employees like principals and teachers.

“It’s not up to any elected school board member to ban it,” Rapp said. “That’s a pretty low bar. Where’s the due diligence?” People like superintendents, principals, teachers, and school librarians should be in charge of what books are available to students he said, not school board members.

“If school boards decide to ban a book, that’s the definition of censorship,” said Rabb.

Rabb said safeguards are in place for parents who disapprove of certain books. They can tell their district that their children “opt out” from reading those books, he said.

Some local mothers vigorously disagreed.

Malvern mom Fenicia Redman is suing the Great Valley School District and state officials in federal court to keep obscene and pornographic books out of her son’s high school.

“Do parents ‘of color’ know that a representative ‘of color’ endorses material in school libraries depicting children giving each other oral sex, pedophilia, masturbation, and more?” Redman asked. “As a mother ‘of color’ I’m happy to lend a few posters and books so the representative ‘of color’ can host a show-and-tell with his children and the press, advising how the material isn’t harmful to children or a federal crime.”

Parent Jamie Walker of Chalfont said, “Parents vote in school board members they feel best represent them and want the best for their children. I believe this bill is an attempt by Democrats to push their agenda of getting inappropriate books into schools because they are failing to do so at the local level. This is exactly what the Democratic Party did with COVID mitigation. History repeats itself and parents should be upset.”

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