Wellington’s libraries will soon be the scene for an examination of when and why we should ‘sanitise’ or ban children’s books.
Out of Reach – the forbidden bookshelf is a new thought-provoking event organised by Wellington City Libraries and the Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA). A week-long series of readings, displays and a celebrity debate will focus on the theme of banned, restricted or sanitised children's books. Out of Reach runs from 23 February to 1 March.
Wellington City Council's Social Portfolio Leader, Councillor Ngaire Best, says libraries are the natural place to examine what reading materials are suitable for children. "Libraries play an important role in providing the public with open access to a range of materials. This event will examine if, in some places and at some times, the impulse to protect children from accessing some materials has been taken too far."
Many high-profile children's book titles have been subject to bans. The Harry Potter series was in the news after being banned in many schools and libraries overseas, and public opinion on books such as Little Black Sambo, where an Indian boy outwits some tigers, has changed over time as cultural attitudes have shifted.
Closer to home, works such as Washday at the Pa, a 1964 school bulletin by Ans Westra showing a rural Maori family living in run-down housing, have caused controversy and divided opinion. Many NZSA members have more recently reported increasing pressure from publishers to adjust their work for overseas markets. Wellington author Don Long says the American edition of his book Fishing Off the Wharf had elements such as its separated and mixed-race parents removed.
During Out of Reach week, children's book authors Fleur Beale, Frances Cherry, Fifi Colston, Judith Bryers-Holloway, Eirlys Hunter, Don Long, Iona McNaughton and Philippa Werry, and librarians Linda Forbes, Lynne Jackett, Janet McFadden, Dylan Owen and Katrina Young-Drew, will read from banned or controversial books.
A celebrity debate on the topic Not enough children's books are banned in New Zealand will take place at Toi Poneke, Wellington Arts Centre, on Monday 25 February. Speakers include MPs Rodney Hide and Judith Tizard and New Zealand Post Book Awards winners Bernard Beckett and Janice Marriott.
Previously-banned books, or those banned in other countries, will also be on display in Johnsonville, Kilbirnie, Newtown, Karori and Central libraries during the week.