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October 11, 2012

Students put spotlight on banned books

What do “The Hunger Games,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Harry Potter” have in common?

They’ve all been banned or at least challenged somewhere in the United States, according to the American Library Association, a fact being highlighted this week on the Hartwick College campus by Sigma Tau Delta, the international honor society for English students.

“We’ve been encouraging people to read banned books, and we’ve been asking them (about) certain books they’ve read themselves,” said Kendra Shedina, a senior English major from Guilderland.

The society has set up a table in the Dewar Union building and is inviting fellow students to peruse lists of banned and challenged books. Most of the students have little trouble finding at least one or two works they’ve read, because the lists contain some of the most popular titles for children and adults.

“These books are part of our curriculum,” Shedina said. “I know in high school people read ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and even ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ And so, it’s just an interesting response, where they’re shocked. … Once we explain to them why they’re banned, they start to understand a little bit.”

And while it’s easy to think of book banning as a phenomenon restricted to less urbane regions than the Northeast, John Knowles novel, “A Separate Peace,” was challenged in an Oneida County school district in 1980 as a “filthy, trashy novel,” according to the library association. The same district also attacked John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and “The Grapes of Wrath.”

“I grew up in New Jersey, and we read ‘Tom Jones’ in our senior year,” said Julia Suarez Hayes, an assistant professor of English and adviser to Sigma Tau Delta. “And that was not without controversy. Many parents didn’t like that, and that’s a classic.”

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