Compared to other states, Massachusetts is not a hot spot for book bans, but that hasn’t stopped Hummingbird Books from getting involved in the effort against literary censorship. For this year’s Banned Books Week, the Chestnut Hill bookshop is highlighting its “Books Unite Us” campaign — an indefinite initiative where people can donate banned and challenged books to readers in Beaufort County, S.C.
“We at Hummingbird books really try to support freedom of expression and actively oppose the rising levels of censorship and book banning throughout the country,” said Wendy Dodson, owner of Hummingbird Books. “As a bookstore owner … it’s my whole world and something I’m so passionate about.”
To put banned books back into the hands and minds of young readers, Hummingbird Books is working with Families Against Banned Books and Lowcountry Pride, two community organizations in Beaufort County that oppose censorship and make challenged books available to their community.
Both groups are active in book ban advocacy and book distribution, with Families Against Banned Books engaged with the school district in general and Lowcountry Pride supporting the LGBTQ+ community of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Both host programs and events where people can find challenged titles and read them, something they cannot do in their own school libraries.
Books to be sent to South Carolina can be purchased in-person at Hummingbird Books or on its website. Its online shop features challenged titles from Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” to Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer.”
“Most of the books that are being banned are dealing with historically underrepresented groups,” said Dodson. She highlighted Raina Telgemeier’s “Drama,” a graphic novel with LGBTQ+ themes and characters, as well as Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” a book that deals with topics of race and incest. “The Bluest Eye” ranks third on the American Library Association’s list of the top 13 most challenged books of 2022, coming in at 73 total challenges within that year alone.
Some of those titles are on the list of 97 books that are currently being challenged in the Beaufort County school district. “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, the second most challenged book of 2022, is currently under review.
Many titles under or pending review are removed from library circulation until the committee reaches a consensus on whether or not the book should be restricted. Therefore, even if a book is not banned, it is made inaccessible when a question or concern is raised.
“It’s so disheartening and demoralizing when you feel powerless,” said Dodson. “So we were trying to come up with a program where everyone can actually do something and have an impact.”
Along with supporting other states, Dodson encourages people to support the authors and publishers of challenged books as well.
“We have to keep these books on the shelves, and that’s why we need to buy them,” Dodson said. “We don’t want the publishers to put them out of print. The thing that we can do is really just buy the books.”
Elena Giardina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.