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The best of the Banned Books Week Essay Contest

For a third year, the Chinook Bookshop and The Colorado Springs Independent have joined forces to sponsor the Banned Books Week Essay Contest. And once again, the entries were rousing. Middle school students were asked to write about "What Freedom To Read Means to Me," and high school students addressed the topic, "Should Books Be Banned From Libraries?"

The completed essays were screened and judged by a panel including: local author and teacher Susan Rottman; CSEA executive secretary Nancy Haley; and Independent editor Kathryn Eastburn.

Our thanks to the teachers who encouraged their students to participate, and to all students who wrote essays. Winners will be honored at Chinook during a Wednesday, Oct. 20, reception at 6 p.m. The public is invited.


MIDDLE-SCHOOL WINNERS

Topic: "What Freedom To Read Means to Me"

First Place: Robyn Diamond, Grade 7, Emerson-Edison Junior Academy

"Books Are My Life"

I think of freedom as being able to do things with no one there to stop or control me. I am able to read freely, not having to glimpse over my shoulder every time I flip a page in a book to make sure no one is there, waiting to put my page-flipping hands in handcuffs. My crime? Reading. If reading became a crime, I don't know what would happen to the Earth, our future, our people, or their brains.

If you were ever to go into my bedroom, the first thing you would see is books. I'm pretty proud of my collection, and I like to see others enjoy it, too. It makes me feel like I own my own mini-library. Why? Because I have the freedom to read what I like.

When I read, I feel like I'm in a different world. I feel like I just stepped out of my bedroom and right into a book. Why? Because I have the freedom to let a book take me to a new destination, whether it's the Bahamas or even the moon.

In books, you can read and learn about other people. You can find out all the weird, embarrassing and fun moments the person had. A book can make you laugh or even cry. I love to read, and living in a world without books would surely kill me. Even having books and not having the freedom to read them would be just as bad.

I have learned pretty much everything from books: how to make things and how to play different sorts of games. I found out a few things about some of my favorite stars that I didn't know before. When I got a new kitten, I referred to books to help me tell me how to care for her better.

Books are my life. It's like I am addicted to them! As soon as I start one, I can't stop. I feel great telling myself, "I have the freedom to read and go places and to do things that wouldn't be possible without a book." In a book, you can feel like you live and go through the life of the main character in the story. Why do I feel this way? Because I have the freedom to read.


Second Place: Sara L. Leitnaker, Grade 8, Eagleview Middle School

"A Damper on the Creative Mind"

The chorus of a song by Alanis Morrisette states, "You live, you learn." I agree with this wholeheartedly. I also believe that when you read, you learn. By removing an individual's right to decide what they read, you also deprive them of their right to seek knowledge.

To ban a book is to put a damper on the creative mind. Nadine Gordimer once said, "Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it. It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever." One person may interpret a book as vile and immoral, while another individual sees it as a literary work of art. Who is going to decide for us what is "right" or "wrong"?

John Stuart Mill basically said that if an idea were a personal possession, no one individual would attempt to take it away from another individual. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and yet concerned parents have no trouble stripping a library of a book that may matter to only one individual.

I was recently shocked to find out that Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson was one of the most frequently banned books of 1998. I enjoyed reading this book in sixth grade, and I felt it was a moving story of friendship and loss. I cannot imagine what was deemed objectionable about this novel nor can I imagine my freedom to read it being taken away. Another book I believe has been unjustly challenged is Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. Some feel it is inappropriate, because the bugs "get drunk" on the peach nectar. That is something that could never happen in real life and therefore has no effect on children. Cartoons are the same way. They have violence in them. However, it is unrealistic violence. A child could never drop a boulder on a playmate, and so the cartoons continue to be aired. Why, when it is OK for a child to see unrealistic violence, is it not OK to read about unrealistic happenings in books?

My right to seek knowledge and read whenever I want to read is a freedom I appreciate each and every day.


HONORABLE MENTION

George Nicholas Reinhardt, Grade 8, Eagleview Middle School



HIGH-SCHOOL WINNERS

Topic: "Should books be banned from libraries"

First Place: Melina Bixler, Grade 12, Manitou Springs High School

"Banning books restricts cultural growth"

Here is your passport to a most extraordinary excursion into magical lands and enchanted happenings ..." This magical description sounds like a wonderful reading experience for a student with a vivid imagination. Unfortunately, this book has been banned in some high-school libraries for "its mystical content." Banning books from high school libraries restricts educational and cultural growth. Censoring books is unconstitutional and sets a bad example of closed-minded thinking. It encourages young adults to reject new ideas. In effect, the censoring of books is a crime against youth.

Book-acceptance committees have set reading standards and curriculums to benefit students. Banning books from the curriculums is banning pieces of knowledge from students. Literature can be violent, depressing, magical or dark. However, there is much a student can learn from a gothic British novel or a World War II portfolio. Teaching a teenager that it is wrong to read about depression and suicide, such as in Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar, is denying him or her the opportunity to learn more about the truths of life. Holden Caulfield's interpretation of life and phony people in Catcher in the Rye focuses more on our weaknesses as humans in the journey through adolescence than it does on vulgar language. In truth, people intent on restricting reading material fail to see that they are also restricting intellectual and spiritual growth.

The Bill of Rights clearly states in its first amendment that the citizens of the United States have freedom of expression. Banning books in high-school libraries is not only unconstitutional, but it models to students that restricting their rights is OK. It discourages young adults from standing up for their freedoms. Book-censoring committees waste taxpayers' money in attempts to restrict rights that have been granted to us through our government. The activists take away student rights and then have the audacity to pretend this act is unacceptable. Any suggestion that students should ignore these small injustices proves that their rights are being compromised.

There is no sense in banning Shel Silverstein's entertaining poems or Judy Blume's stories. Book banners have no right nor business taking away students' freedom to read. It may seem harmless at first, but these wrongs against students deny knowledge, counteract the Constitution and set a bad example for students. Indeed, banning books from high-school libraries is a crime against youth.


Second Place: Adam Lampert, Grade 11, Fountain Valley School

"Make me a nice large box to live in"

You would think that the most powerful country in the world would not be concerned with petty things such as book banning or censorship. "To get that much power, they've got to be intelligent" is what you'd say. But no, despite its noble beginnings, fear, suspicion and outright hysteria have corrupted America.

To ban books such as Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms or Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath because of their realistic depictions indicates people are somewhat afraid of the truth. But what are they so afraid of? Do they think if I read about a war, I will try to start one? Will I immediately jump into the sack with the nearest girl I find after reading D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover? I think not.

If you plan on keeping me innocent and pure, I suggest that you make me a nice large box to live in, for the real world is certainly harsher than anything a man could invent. War, rape, murder, terrorism, child abuse and assault are now part of almost every American's life.

People could definitely use an occasional escape to the romantic world of Huck Finn, yet even it has been banned for use of the "n" word, which, I might add, is presently in nearly every popular rap artist's lyrics. These book banners are trying to place blinders on us so that we may not see the horror to the sides, even though there are worse things directly in front of us.

Not only is book banning futile and close-minded, but it hinders progress as well. During these horrific times of violence, suffering and stress, we, as a people, must strive to learn and discover anything we can to prevent these same situations from occurring in the future. Instead of banning these books, we should be learning from them and teaching our children about them in hope that, someday, things will be different.


HONORABLE MENTION

Chandra Lloyd, Grade 12, Manitou Springs High School

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