A Young Reader Stands Up for the First Amendment

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By Molly Widmer

A few weeks ago at my school, I went to the library to check out a book by my favorite author. But as soon as I arrived, I stopped dead in my tracks. There, locked in the glass cases, were the fantasy books I was planning to read!

I ran straight to the school librarian, terribly mad, demanding to know how it happened. He told me that someone had sent a complaint to the school about fantasy books, so they were all locked up and would be taken away.

As soon as more students started arriving at school, I spread the news. Everyone was surprised and immediately went to talk to the librarian. By 8 o'clock that morning, the students were packed in the library, waiting to have their say.

That day at break, people started to put up posters that said, "Give our books back!" and, "What have books done to you?" Seeing all this, I put up posters and flyers to try to help, and repeatedly visited the crowded library to make my argument heard.

Finally, at the end of the week, the school gathered for an assembly. Most people just thought it was about the library fund-raiser -- a read-a-thon. But we thought wrong.

Half the student body, including me, brought posters and signs. We were stamping our feet and shouting. Even photographers from a newspaper were there.

Then the announcement came: The book ban was just a test.

A test?! I couldn't believe it. After hours spent making posters, talking to teachers and signing petitions, this was just some horrible joke?!

But as our librarian explained what happened, I felt better. It turned out that it was the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, and our librarian had banned fantasy books to help us understand how it felt to have our rights taken away.

During the rest of the assembly, our librarian told us he was so proud of the way we had fought, and that he did this to show us how blessed we were to have the promise that in our school, books would never be taken away from us.

But I know that this is not the case in every school. I was amazed when I found out that books are banned frequently at schools all around the United States.

After a while, I started to realize the truth in what our librarian had said. We really are blessed to have freedom of choice. It is unfair to anyone to have the freedom of choice taken away.

This experience has taught me an important lesson that I want to share with people around me: Whoever and wherever you are, if your freedom of choice is jeopardized, don't sit and sulk. Get up and fight, take risks, don't be embarrassed! Just be true to yourself.

Molly Widmer is a sixth-grader at the Girls' Middle School in Mountain View, California. Walter Mayes, the school's librarian, is co-author -- with bookseller Valerie Lewis -- of Valerie & Walter's Best Books for Children (Avon Books). This piece originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 17, 2002, and is reprinted with permission of the author.