The courage to write

Cover of A Way of LoveCourage Day is held on 15 November each year. It is the New Zealand name for The International Day of the Imprisoned Writer. The day acknowledges and supports writers who defend the right to freedom of expression.The day also stands as a memorial to writers who have been killed because of their profession. It was started in 1981 by PEN, the international writers’ organisation.

The New Zealand Society of Authors named the event after Sarah Courage and her grandson James Courage. Sarah wrote Lights and Shadows of Colonial Life: Twenty-six Years in Canterbury, New Zealand. This book was not well received by her neighbours. They didn’t like how she portrayed them. The neighbours burnt the book.

James Courage was born in Amberley and educated at Christ’s College in Christchurch. His novel A Way of Love was banned because he dared to express homosexuality in his writing prior to the setting up of the Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1964. He has a plaque on the Christchurch Writers’ Trail outside his old school.

It takes a lot of courage to write a book that challenges our society’s views on what should or should not be in print. It takes even more courage to defend that right even when faced with persecution, imprisonment or death. As Heather Hapeta, previous chair of the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors, once said, ‘This New Zealand name of Courage is also appropriate because of the bravery required by those authors who face opposition in its many forms’.

On the 15th of November, let us celebrate the author’s right to write and the reader’s right to read.

Banned Books Week 2015

Isaac Asimov once said that “Any book worth banning is a book worth reading”. And here at Christchurch City Libraries we like to give readers the choice!

Cover of The LoraxDid you know that before being green was in, Dr Seuss’ The Lorax was banned? Yep, you read that right… The Lorax!!! It was banned in 1989 because it portrayed the forestry industry in a bad light.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden rise in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries in the United States, and more than 11,300 books have been challenged since.

You might be forgiven for thinking that New Zealand, being such a freedom loving country, would reject the idea of censorship of any kind, but there have been several instances of it through the decades. You can see some of them here: Banned Books in New Zealand.

Cover of Into The RiverThe latest book that has been challenged has become a cause célèbre. I’m talking of course about the young adult novel Into the River by Ted Dawe, which has been classified three times and is now under an ‘interim restriction order‘. If you would like to know what this actually means, our editor Donna has written an insightful post: Into the River – what is this banning all about?

This year Banned Books Week will run from 27 September to 3 October, and aptly the focus is Young Adult books.

The following are the 10 books most challenged in 2014 according to the American Library Association.

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”.
  2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
    Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”.
  3. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
    Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”.
  4. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”.
  5. It’s Perfectly Normal (aka Let’s Talk About Sex) by Robie Harris
    Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”.
  6. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    Reasons: Anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  7. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence.
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”.
  9. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  10. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: sexually explicit.

“You want weapons? We are in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. This room is the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself.”  – The Doctor.

Cover of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Cover of Persepolis Cover of Tango Cover of The Bluest Eye Cover of It's Perfectly Normal Cover of Saga Cover of The Kite Runner Cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower Cover of A Stolen Life Cover of Drama

We have all these titles and plenty more challenged books in our catalogue if you dare to read them. Do you agree with censoring books for their content?

Libraries: Intellectual freedom and access to information

Our Content Development Policy guides the selection and management of resources collected and created by the Christchurch City Libraries Ngā Kete Wānanga-o-Ōtautahi. One of the core values expressed in this policy is Intellectual freedom and access to information (Chapter 7.5, p. 15).

It states:

Items prohibited by the Films, Videos and Publication Classification Act 1993 will not be purchased by the Library and material restricted by provisions of this act will not be issued to customers under the specified age. Apart from these statutory requirements, the Library will have no active censorship role.

The Policy asserts that Christchurch City Libraries supports the right of children and young adults to choose their own material. The responsibility for a child’s selection rests with parents or legal guardians (see membership form).

In line with this policy, the NZ Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (winner of the Young adult fiction category of the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards) Into the river by Ted Dawe will not be getting explicit content stickers.

We do not censor books in this way unless they have been to the censor and have been rated.

To uphold the principle of intellectual freedom, the Library attempts to supply a balanced collection containing varying viewpoints on controversial issues. Material will not be suppressed or removed simply because it gives offence. While recognising the right of the individual to reject material, this should not diminish the overall breadth of the collection for other customers.

Do you read banned books?

One of the most banned booksThis week is Banned Books Week in America, but we thought we would celebrate too.  Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read whatever, whenever and wherever we choose, and draws attention to the harms of censorship.  The reasons for censorship are many and varied, and when you look at some of the reasons why books have been banned (particularly in America), it seems ridiculous. 


 Here are just some of the fantastic children’s books that have been banned or challenged for ridiculous reasons:

1. Witches by Roald Dahl – gives children a false idea about how the world works and it has a negative portrayal of women.

2. The Captain Underpants series by Dave Pilkey – encourages children to disobey authority.

3. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak – objections to nudity (some librarians have even drawn pants on Mickey).

4. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson – gives negative views of life and promotes witchcraft.

5. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein – includes poems about disobeying children, dying children and there is a presence of supernatural forces in the poetry.

We have a display in the Centre for the Child in Central Library of some books that have been banned or challenged so come in and take one home.  You can also have a look at the list of the top 100 banned or challenged books between 1990 and 2000.  Be warned though – these books could be bad for your health so read them at your own risk!


We are so lucky to live in NZ! School Library Journal this month has a huge article about self-censorship in American libraries. Apparently some Children’s and Young Adult Librarians feel pressured to not select certain books for their library, not because people have complained about inappropriate content, but because they are worried that someone will.

I’ve worked at the Library for 10 years and can only remember 3 book challenges during this time. From talking to my colleagues in the US, it seems like a common occurance. I wonder why it is such a huge deal in America, but such a tiny blip here?

J. M. Coetzee on censorship

The Coetzee session has just finished, and as I write this a huge queue is snaking through the Aotea Centre – filled with people waiting to have a book signed by the great man. There was a massive buzzing crowd for the Nobel Prize and Man Booker (twice) winner. Coetzee, now a citizen of Australia, was introduced by Witi Ihimaera who spoke of him as a writer unflinchingly going for the jugular and as one of the greatest writers of our times; he praised his highly intellectual and scrupulous fiction and said he believes every NZ family should have one of his books in their library.

Coetzee spoke about censorship, and then did some readings – from In the heart of the country, Waiting for barbarians and The Life and Times of Michael K. His revelations about censorship were astonishing and gave new knowledge of how the old South African regime was run.

Continue reading

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

the life of an outsiderD. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover is one of the most scandalous, infamous books in modern literature.  Originally published in the 1930s it was banned but was re-published by Penguin in 1959 after British obscenity laws were changed.  In 1960 the publishers were prosecuted for doing so and the resulting trial was a landmark case in terms of censorship.

This week One’s Sunday Theatre offering “The Chatterley Affair” is a fictionalised account of this famous trial and stars the delightful David Tennant (Dr Who).  If your interest is piqued by this television drama, you might also consider having a look at – Continue reading