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On Hazel Rochman’s “Against Borders” (from 1995)

somehow_tenderness“Apartheid has tried to make us bury our books. The Inquisition and the Nazis burned books. Slaves in the United States were forbidden to read books. From Latin America to Eastern Europe, they’ve trashed books. But the stories are still here.

I believe that the best books can make a difference in building community.”

In her article, “Against Borders,” published in the March/April 1995 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, Hazel Rochman talks about growing up in South Africa during apartheid. The article is about much more than that, but it’s her childhood as a white South African that has informed much of her work as a children’s book critic in the United States.

This piece appeared in the Magazine over twenty years ago and looks further back in time than that — yet so much of what Hazel writes about has chilling resonance today:

200px-ApartheidSignEnglishAfrikaans“As an immigrant, I’m still unable to take for granted the freedoms of the First Amendment. In Johannesburg I worked as a journalist, and over many years I saw freedom of thought and expression whittled away until it was forbidden to criticize the government or even to ask questions about children detained and tortured without trial. The result of that kind of censorship is that most people can shut out, can not know, what is happening all around them.”

And this:

“Walls were what apartheid was about. Walls and borders.”

Hazel’s closing words are a rallying cry for inclusion and acceptance:

“Borders shut us in, in Johannesburg, in Los Angeles, in Eastern Europe, in our own imaginations. The best books can help break down that apartheid. They surprise us — whether they are set close to home or abroad. They change how we see ourselves; they extend that phrase ‘like me’ to include what we thought was strange and foreign.

Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but, most importantly, it finds homes for us everywhere.”

About Kitty Flynn

Kitty Flynn is consulting editor for The Horn Book, Inc.

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