Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Trickiness of Censorship

In Canada, books are not banned. The choosing and purchasing of books is up to the discretion of the librarian. This is a part of the Freedom of Information and protection of privacy act. The act also states that as an employee I am not allowed to stop them from signing out whatever they want, plus I don't have to divulge that information the their parents. It is interesting how kids will swarm to the books labelled "mature reads". As a librarian I am entitled to warn students if a book contains foul language, sex or violence, but I can’t stop them from reading it. If I knew we had an abridged copy, I would tell them about it, but ultimately the choice is theirs.

Censorship is a tricky subject. As a mother, I censor what my kids read, watch or play because children are easily beguiled and I want to protect their innocence. For example, the less they hear or read the “f” word, they less likely they are to use it. At the same time, I don’t blind them from reality. I will never lie to them. I want them to know there are mistakes in history that if ignored will be repeated. There will come a time when I cannot stop what is exposed to them and I hope by then I have ingrained in them a high sense of morals and values so they can withstand any negative influence they come across.

However, that said, as a mother I cannot walk into the library and rip pages out of books or scribble out offensive passages with a black felt marker. I would be sued for doing that. As a mother, I have no influence on the literature found in a public institution. I cannot take away the rights of patrons to read what they want or the rights of authors to write what they want.

Mothers, librarians and authors hold the gateways to censorship and I happen to be all three. There was a time early in my career that I figured I could be a shining example of purity and honesty for my readers; that none of my characters would swear, drink, have sex or be racist. They would be a beacon of light in the dark world and every teen reader would eagerly strive for the same kind of perfection. Well, my manuscripts got real boring real fast. I was restraining my characters from their true selves. My antagonists were unconvincing and my heroes were way too polite.

So I made them real or I should say they made themselves real. My son asked me why Torvald swore in my YA novel SHIFTERS and I said, “That’s the way he is; a little rough on the edges. It is Torvald talking, not me.”

As an author I do my best to present examples of stalwart, responsible citizens as well as the not so shiny happy people to educate and influence my readers my readers. As a librarian I seldom refuse to purchase a book unless the content is utterly nasty and patrons would be embarrassed if they were seen taking out books like that. Even if they did, I wouldn’t tell, I uphold any librarian/patron privileges. As a mother I screen first to make sure my kids don’t accept or develop any bad habits, then I encourage them to read like any good author/librarian/mother would do.

P.S. Aimee L. Salter  has a great post on the subject of removing the “n” word from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

~Halli Lilburn, author of the YA novel SHIFTERS.


  1. Good for you for making them true to themselves! That's the best thing we can do for our characters.

  2. Characters have to be themselves, or they fall flat, become little more than 2 dimensional cardboard depictions. And as with most humans in this world, or beings of others (lol!) they just aren't perfectly behaved with an aversion to naughty things. :-)