Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Is it Book Removal or Book Banning?

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Grade 10 students at a Brampton secondary school won’t be studying To Kill a Mockingbird in English class this fall. Their principal has taken the novel off the curriculum after a complaint from a parent. The Dufferin-Peel-Catholic District School Board says the book has not been banned, but removed from this particular school’s course list, as is the prerogative of the principal.

Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne spins it as an opportunity. The school board can now choose a book by a Canadian author as a replacement.

Word choice is so very important. Removal, opportunity and replacement are words chosen to soften the situation and to defuse controversy. Many others would choose different words, such as censorship and book banning.

Controversy surrounding To Kill a Mockingbird is not new. Parents who have wanted the book removed in the past have cited the use of the word “nigger” as the major complaint. Reading the book in the classroom, they say, ignites racist comments and incidents outside the classroom and directed at their children.

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in a fictional Alabama town and focuses on racial injustice. It has been used in classrooms for years to promote discussion about rascism among young adults and to teach tolerance. The book won a Pulitzer Prize for American author, Harper Lee.

Freedom to Read posts a long list of books and magazines that have been “challenged” in Canada. Each challenge has “sought to limit public access to the books in schools, libraries, or bookstores.” Some titles and authors you will readily recognize, such as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and Three Wishes: Palestinian & Israeli Children Speak Out by past OpenBook WIR, Deborah Ellis.

If the removal of the novel stands, I’ll be watching to see whether the Brampton principal has the courage to replace a controversial book with another controversial book, albeit Canadian.

I’d also be curious to know your thoughts.

~ Marianne Paul

2 comments

When I read the original news story, I, too, was surprised and disturbed that the action was taken as a result of a complaint from one parent.

So a novel that illustrates (and beautifully) why prejudice and racism are destructive and wrong is going to get banned because it gives examples. I know the principal said "removed", not "banned", but I think it's the same thing.

And all because of the complaint of a single parent?

It's not Canadian, but how about the Grade 10 class take Fahrenheit 451 instead? Maybe the parent who complained can read along.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Marianne Paul

Marianne Paul's is the author of the novels Dead Girl Diaries (BookLand Press, 2009), Tending Memory (BookLand Press, 2007), Twice in a Blue Moon (BookLand Press, 2007) and The Shunning (Moonstone Press, 1994). Her fiction, non-fiction and poems have appeared in publications such as Vox Feminarum, Cahoots, Canadian Author, Western People and The New Quarterly.

Go to Marianne Paul’s Author Page