Freedom to Read Week

 This is Freedom to Read week. While we may not give it much thought, the freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves. Those requests rarely make headlines – they often don’t even make the news – but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read. They also have a direct and sometimes devastating impact on the livelihoods of writers.

If you have the time and the inclination, you might like to check out the following links.

Here, Victoria author and friend Robin Stevenson details what happened when her book was banned in the middle of a book tour in Illinois. Ultimately, the experience gave her more of a platform to get her message out:

Next, is YA author Bill Konigsberg responding to parents who have called to have his books banned from school libraries:

And finally, if you’d like to dig a little deeper, here are additional details on some of the challenged works in Canada.

Happy Freedom to Read (whatever you choose!) Week.

Rallying for People

Normally in this space I blog about books and the writing life, and sometimes about my garden or my dogs or how the raccoons are tearing up the pond yet again. The main point of today’s blog is to share this link:

Canadian children’s authors and illustrators have joined together in an effort to raise money to support Syrian refugees. Inspired by the enormously successful UK fundraising campaign organized by British YA author Patrick Ness, Sarah Harvey and Robin Stevenson have started a similar fundraising campaign in Canada. They’re asking those who can to make a small contribution to Doctors Without Borders, an independent medical relief group that operates medical facilities in Syria and supports more than 100 clinics and hospitals in the country. Their original goal to raise $10,000 was met in 72 hours so the goal has been doubled to $20,000.

In case you’ve missed the news, the situation is dire. The conditions for people fleeing Syria and other parts of the Middle East are horrific. Doctors Without Borders is providing very direct help, and the above link will take you to the signup sheet for a donation. It’s easy to contribute and you don’t need to be an author or an illustrator to do it. You don’t have to pledge much. You don’t have to pledge at all. This isn’t about pressure or guilt or anything remotely close. It’s an opportunity.

I know there are opportunities everywhere. There’s need everywhere too. There are homeless people downtown and people out of work and seniors who can’t afford the drugs they need and single mothers who don’t know where they’ll get money for next week’s school lunches and the food banks are low on donations. And we have our own bills to pay and the economy sucks and on and on it goes.

It’s exhausting, really. I’m exhausted thinking about it. But I’m not half as exhausted as those Syrian parents who are piling their families into a leaky boat for a life threatening trip to Europe.

Refugee numbers, worldwide, are mushrooming at a staggering rate. Since 2013 alone, the United Nations has documented a four-fold increase. Millions of people are impacted, many of them women and children. I’ve heard people say it’s too far away; they can’t relate. Others bring up the terrorist and security issue. But this isn’t about terrorism or security or politics. And how far is too far away?

If most of us dig far enough back into our own personal history, chances are we’d  find an ancestor or two who fled untenable conditions without much more than the clothes on their backs. Or maybe they migrated here under relatively comfortable conditions. But migrate they did and they probably had a helping hand along the way. It’s easy to forget that. It’s easier still to believe this isn’t about us.

When my kids were young, I told them about my husband’s family who fled a dictatorship in Europe and came to Canada. They couldn’t relate. That was one of the reasons I wrote Lesia’s Dream which highlights the Ukrainian immigration and subsequent internment at the start of World War 1. In writing that book, I spent many hours thinking about our ancestors. Those people who crossed oceans and endured hardship to give themselves, their children, and their children’s children, a better life.

To give my children a better life.

So Sarah and Robin and the rest of the Canadian children’s authors and illustrators aren’t rallying for a cause. We’re rallying to help fellow human beings. And we hope you will too.