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Banned Books Week Essay Contest Winners

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For the fourth year in a row, the Chinook Bookshop and The Colorado Springs Independent have teamed up to sponsor the Banned Books Week Essay Contest. Junior high school students were asked to write about "What 'Freedom to Read' means to me" and high school students addressed the topic "What do you think about banning books in a high school library?" And once again, the entries were impressive.

The essays were screened and judged by a panel including: the Chinook staff; Kathy Glassman, president of CSEA; Susan Rottman, local author and teacher; and Independent editor Kathryn Eastburn.

Our thanks to the teachers who encouraged their students to participate and to all students who submitted essays. Winners will be honored at a 5:30 p.m. reception on Friday, Oct. 27, at Chinook. The public is invited.

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Junior High School Winners

First Place

Brandon Redlinger, Grade 8

Eagleview Middle School

"We don't have to agree with what we read, but we should learn from it."

The freedom to read means we shouldn't allow censorship or book banning due to subject matter, language usage or violent situations. To prevent children from knowing about the world and human nature is unrealistic. "Children are not innocent. They are just inexperienced," said Judy Blume, a veteran of censorship wars. Shielding children from the cruel reality of the world doesn't do them any favors. Instead of shielding children, parents can offer a perspective from personal experiences and help children interpret the world, its realities and flaws. Children, with guidance from parents, should be able to make decisions about what they read and believe. Parents need to take the responsibility, deciding what is appropriate or inappropriate for their children. We shouldn't sacrifice our First Amendment rights to censors just to be protected from what other people consider right and wrong.

The determination about which books should be restricted from children depends on their level of maturity. A person less mature might misinterpret the meaning of subject matter resulting in inappropriate thoughts, beliefs or behavior. Conversely, a person who is mature enough to comprehend what the author is implying will understand the message being emphasized. Again, parents' supervision is indicated, not banning.

Reading is one of our greatest freedoms. Censorship leads to conformity. This limits the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our culture depends. Creativity, research, and technological advances would be limited. Democracy's responsibility is to make available a diversity of views, popular and unpopular. It's not right to coerce the thought of some and inhibit the efforts of others. All community members should have equal access to the entire range of written resources. Publishers' responsibilities are to give the full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of expression. The freedom to read is of little consequence unless the reader can obtain material to suit his purpose.

Libraries should be allowed to provide information presenting contrasting viewpoints on historical issues. History teaches students the events that shaped the world. Materials shouldn't be removed because of differing partisan or doctrinal views. A person's right to use a library for research should not be denied because of parents' conflicting views either. We don't have to agree with what we read, but we should learn from it.

The First Amendment guarantees our freedom to decide what we choose to read and think. Though someone may be convinced his views are right, that individual is not entitled to impose them on others.

Second Place

Grady Castle, Grade 8

Eagleview Middle School

"Controversial writing ... keeps our minds alive."

The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its shame." -- Oscar Wilde.

When books are banned, it illustrates a refusal of the censors to look at the world with open eyes; to close their eyes like they closed the banned book. Banning books divulges more about the censor than the book or the author brought into the limelight.

Freedom to read means that you are able to read freely without the possibility of being stopped because the material is inappropriate according to the challenger's belief system. If the challenger doesn't like the book, maybe he shouldn't read it or let his children read it. But banning books takes the books off the shelves, abolishing even the slightest chance that those condemned books might be able to be read at all. Banning for one bans for all.

"... I say let's get back to the good old First Amendment of the good old-fashioned United States -- and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge, or give me death!" -- Kurt Vonnegut

The Bill of Rights makes important changes to the Constitution set to establish rules for the United States of America. Obviously, the most important change would be made first. If the First Amendment states that it is okay to write as you wish, then I believe it's okay to write as you wish. And a corollary to that is it's okay to read what you want, too. Depriving others of the chance to read is an unjust thing to do. It doesn't matter if another doesn't want to read a book because the author said something that was offensive, but don't try to control another's value system by limiting their exposure to ideas.

If the privilege of writing something one believes in is taken away, then the privilege of believing has been taken away. Freedom to read is the freedom to read anything. I have read many books I wanted to read even though it was prohibited and that's the way I want it to always be.

I want it to always be this way because my interest jumps a notch when someone tells me a book's controversial. Controversial writing causes sparks and keeps our minds alive.

"Free societies ... are societies in motion, and with motion comes tension, dissent, friction. Free people strike sparks, and those sparks are the best evidence of freedom's existence." -- Salmon Rushdie


High School Winners

First Place

Kendall Anderson, Grade 11

Manitou Springs High School

"Books that break the mold are what we need."

Stripping books that some people deem inappropriate from high school libraries underrates youthful intelligence, clouds history and dilutes our culture to fit a mold of conformity. Oftentimes books are quite literally judged by their covers. There is much more to most frequently challenged books than a controversial topic. What lies between the covers are breakthroughs in expression, timeless plots, and new perspectives for readers. Books that break the mold are what we need. High school libraries should foster open expression without limitations by censors.

The dull reaction and sarcastic tone Kurt Vonnegut takes when describing war and massacre cause his books to be challenged in several communities. Misunderstanding provokes this ridicule. Vonnegut uses the phrase "So it goes" to describe numerous senseless deaths in his book Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut doesn't mean to devalue the importance of life, but rather, he emphasizes with the repeated phrase the horrible reality of lives lost. By assuming that high school readers can't understand and appreciate this, censors misjudge student intelligence and swindle teens out of experiencing groundbreaking literature.

Rape is not a tasteful subject for anyone. However, a novel can deal with this delicate subject with more empathy than the evening news. Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings confronts this touchy subject. Yet while rape may not be a comfortable topic, the problem is not alien to many young women. By pulling these books off shelves, censors close our eyes to the world around us. Such books can teach the confused or comfort the suffering. If ideas in books are too taboo for some readers, no one is forced to read them. Someone who thirsts for that information, however, shouldn't be deprived of the opportunity to find it.

In Mark Twain's novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, many people confront uncomfortable language. These books offer the reader a peek into another time period when a different set of values reigned. We should be trying to reclaim the innocence of that era, not censoring the slang of the time. Censoring regional books such as these distorts history.

We should not underestimate our youth, disguise our culture, or sweep the past under the rug. A high school student can't be sheltered from what is true or from ideas that can change their lives. Everyone deserves an opportunity to be touched by literature. Censoring books in a high school library is not acceptable.

Second Place

Annabell Woods, Grade 11

Manitou Springs High School

"Some believe they can hoodwink today's youth."

My generation, probably more aware of the world than our predecessors, faces challenges on all levels as capable adults, and we cannot allow ourselves to be swaddled when we are not infants. Censoring challenged books in high schools distorts constitutional freedom and robs young adults of potentially enriching literature. Some believe they can hoodwink today's youth. With some initiative and persistence, these people often succeed. While they preach purity, censors pervert and destroy many authors' ideas and stop our right to judge for ourselves what we can view.

As a child, the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the Oz books by Frank L. Baum, and similar stories ignited my imagination with adventure and images of wizards, witches, and talking animals. The same reasons these stories stay alive and vivid in my memory are some of the same reasons that censors ban books today. When children today read the widely scrutinized Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, I am certain that Rowling's words excite them as Lewis's and Baum's words excited me.

I gravitate toward literature that depicts reality. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, criticized for displaying disobedient behavior and racial slurs, accurately portray the author's era. The artful precision that acclaimed poet Maya Angelou paints her personal experiences in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is censored because it discusses rape. A Separate Peace by John Knowles let me peer into our world at a different time. These books open the minds of high school students, rather than pervert them.

Regardless of what I believe is appropriate, others have the freedom to judge differently. If I believe a work is unsuitable, I can choose not to read it. I can even one day restrict what my own children read. When I tell others that they cannot read something, I impose my own values on others. In forbidding others from reading a book I do not own or have any grounds to regulate, I rob them of their freedom and, more importantly, their desire to learn. Today, the boundaries of purity and pornography, art and anarchy are faintly drawn. We live in a gray world where light and shadows mingle, making it impossible for a few individuals to make universal judgements over all people. By judging issues for ourselves, we excel beyond false logic, ignorance, and an imposed idea of purity.

Honorable Mention

Phillip D. Dressen, Grade 12

Centennial High School, Pueblo

Regina Caputo, Grade 11

Centennial High School, Pueblo

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