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Banned Books Week


"Celebrate Your Freedom to Read" is the motto used in many libraries this week to promote Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week is part of the American Library Association's goal to "keep the concept of literary freedom at the forefront of Americans' minds." The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom received 460 "challenges" about books last year. (2009) These formal, written complaints, which are filed with a library or school, are requests to remove offending books from shelves, most often due to language, content, or violence.

One of the books on the American Library Association's Top 100 Banned Books is "Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut. The book tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim, a soldier captured by Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. Billy and others become POWs in an abandoned slaughterhouse in Dresden, Germany. Time Magazine declared "Slaughterhouse Five" to be "One of the 100 all-time best English-language novels written since 1923."

However, in November of 1973, Drake, North Dakota school board members had another viewpoint of the famous Vonnegut book. English teacher Bruce Severy assigned "Slaughterhouse Five" to his sophomore class. After a student complained to her mother regarding the language in the book, the school board stepped in and ordered the books confiscated. The Drake school board declared that all 35 copies of "Slaughterhouse Five" would be burned in the school furnace. Students who refused to hand over the book had their lockers searched, and their parents called. English teacher Bruce Severy was astounded that any school in the United States would burn books. Severy is quoted as saying, "I chose the book for its immediacy, its modern style, its brevity. I believe the theme, or message of the book is a question: Why are we killing each other still?" The Drake school superintendent asked Severy to resign or be fired.

In the following weeks, author Kurt Vonnegut was interviewed by the Minot Daily News and wrote a lengthy letter to the Drake School Board. The American Civil Liberties Union threatened the Drake school district with a lawsuit. And English teacher Bruce Severy received a settlement of $5,000. Vonnegut's letter to Drake school officials can be found in his book entitled, "Palm Sunday."

As this week marks the American Library Association's "Banned Books Week," check out your local library and Celebrate Your Freedom to Read.

Dakota Datebook written by Jill Whitcomb

Sources:'s Annual Banned Books Week-

American Library Association website-

Minot Daily"Books at Drake Burned by School Board" by Andrea Johnson. writing community website-