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'Speak' author Laurie Halse Anderson advocates for the freedom to read ahead of Central Illinois Reads appearance

'Speak' author Laurie Halse Anderson
Contributed Photo
'Speak' author Laurie Halse Anderson

The American Library Association says book challenges reached a record high last year, with more than 1200 attempted book bans reported across the country.

The author of a frequently-challenged book says there's a difference between choosing what literature is right for your children, and trying to impose that choice upon a public library or school.

Laurie Halse Anderson wrote Speak, a 1999 young adult novel about a teenager who stops talking after she is sexually assaulted.

"You choose for your own child, but what about the parent who wants their child to read my book or somebody else's book? Democracy can be uncomfortable, because we have different opinions, often, as Americans," Anderson said. "And we have to find a way to share our space, share our nation, with respect."

Anderson said the current wave of book banning started with politicians weaponizing the fears parents had about the impact of pandemic restrictions on their children.

"We were beginning to start to have healthy conversations about things like sexual violence, about race in America, about people who are not cisgendered people, who are don't identify as straight. And this wave of hatred from these extremists is shutting down those conversations," she said.

She said people who oppose book bans need to speak up at their local school board and library board meetings, and not allow a single person or a small minority to pull books off shelves.

"If we care about our country, if we care about all of our children, then we have to all be there fighting for the rights of everybody to read freely," she said.

Anderson is talking about censorship and book banning this Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Peoria Public Library Main Branch. It's part of the ongoing Central Illinois Reads "Freedom to Read" program.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.