Banned Books Week, an annual national celebration of the freedom to read, is just around the corner, and book lovers in Ann Arbor are gearing up for a lively event.
The open house style event promises something for everyone, with a range of speakers, storytimes, and family-friendly activities scheduled throughout the evening.
Booksweet was opened in 2021 by life and business partners Truly Render and Shaun Manning. The co-owners said that along with activities, the event will also be a way to help raise money to donate to PEN America for the organization’s work to end book bannings, which ties in with the bookstore’s overall mission for the shop to create change.
“The most important thing to us, the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning, is community growth, learning connections, and social change — and we really believe that stories and books can unlock such great change,” Render said. “When books are banned and books are challenged, books are restricted from youth, it is a threat to the very nature of all of the possibilities that stories can bring to us. We don’t like that.”
While many people in Michigan may think of book bannings as mainly being a Florida and Texas issue, it’s also happening close to home.
One big example is Patmos Library in West Michigan being defunded over its refusal to take Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel memoir “Gender Queer” out of circulation. On November 7, voters in Ottawa County will vote for a third time to see if the mileage that provides 87% of the library’s budget can be restored.
Book bannings often target people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, Render said, so this event will help to educate local residents.
The event’s lineup includes a 5 p.m. storytime with Aya Khalil, author of the 2023 picture book “The Great Banned Books Bake Sale,” based on her real-life experiences of having her 2020 picture book, “The Arabic Quilt” banned in U.S. public schools and libraries.
At 6 p.m, Cathy Fleischer of Everyday Advocacy will present strategies on how educators and their supporters can shift the public narrative to keep challenged books in schools.
Then, at 7 p.m, Red, Wine, & Blue will conduct a vital workshop on how to effectively speak up and speak out at school board meetings, library board meetings and beyond.
Throughout the event, attendees can participate in letter-writing urging representatives to protect students’ freedom to read in U.S. public schools and libraries through the Right to Read Act. Additionally, guests can explore banned books from the past and present through an innovative card game called “The Censor.”
“I think we’re really hoping to give folks tools that they can take into all of their communities, including other family members who might not agree with them or to their school board or to be able to support their librarian when challenges arise,” Manning said. “I think that it’s important to be aware, but I think awareness in itself can feel a little bit hopeless, so we’re trying to give people tools that they can use to give them hope and to be able to achieve the change and achieve the support that we need.”