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Presidents’ Day celebrates the life and work of George Washington. Although Washington’s birthday is on February 22nd, the holiday is celebrated on the third Monday to allow us to enjoy a three day weekend. Presidents’ Day is also a chance to explore the tenets of democracy and civil freedoms.

Interestingly, the freedom to read has not always been seen as a freedom. Citing the freedom to read as a part of our Constitution’s First Amendment, the American Library Association hosts a Banned Books Week every year to celebrate the freedom to read. Here is a list from The American Library Association of the top 20 American novels that have been challenged. Why do you think they have been banned or challenged? How many have you read?

Did you know that Calvin Coolidge, the U.S.’s 30th President, attended Amherst College and was mayor of Northampton in the early 1900’s? We have our very own slice of U.S. Presidential history here in Western MA. Have you ever cross the bridge over the Connecticut River that connects Hadley to Northampton? That’s the Calvin Coolidge Bridge. There’s also the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum at the Forbes Library which houses a collection of materials related to Calvin Coolidge’s life and are available to historians and researchers interested in the public and private life of Calvin Coolidge.

Think about this:

What books have you read that were once banned or on a challenged list?
What does the freedom to read mean to you?
What was the literacy rate among women in the United States in the 18th century? What was it later in the 19th century?
How can literacy, the right to read, and the value of reading literature help shape an ethical and compassionate democracy?

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