Banned Books Week

In case you haven’t heard, it’s Banned Books Week!

From Banned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. According to the American Library Association, there were 326 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2011, and many more go unreported. 

As a writer of young adult fiction that might be considered “edgy” or for an “older teen audience,” book censorship is an issue that hits close to home.

Books are most often challenged by people and groups who, at their core, have the best of intentions: To protect children from explicit and/or difficult material. Still, censorship in any form is wrong. Parents have every right and responsibility to keep their children from material they deem inappropriate; librarians, teachers, religious organizations, and politicians should not.

banned books week

Still, year after year, people and groups continue to challenge books, most often for the following reasons*:

1. The material is considered to be “sexually explicit.”

2. The material contains “offensive language.”

3. The material is “unsuited to any age group.”

It’s all very vague and subjective, isn’t it? 

2011′s list of Most Challenged Books*:

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism

And, a few Classics that have been challenged at one time or another*: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, Ulysses, by James Joyce, Beloved, by Toni Morrison, The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, and 1984, by George Orwell.

Banned books

So… How can we stand up to book challengers?

1. By defending our right to intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular. We can talk about the danger of restraining the availability of information in our free society.

2. We can voice the importance of the First Amendment and (especially) the power of literature.

3. We can support librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to who fight to keep “inappropriate” books in library and school collections.

4. We can continue to buy, borrow, loan, read, and recommend banned and challenged books. (Read Twenty Boy Summer and Speak and To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hunger Games and The Grapes of Wrath and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian!)

Happy Banned Books Week!

Tell me: What’s your favorite banned book? And, how will you celebrate Banned Books Week?

*Statistics and lists borrowed from the American Library Association’s Banned and Challenged Books page. Please do visit the ALA’s site for more information.


14 thoughts on “Banned Books Week

  1. Rachel says:

    Love this post, Katy! I don’t have a favorite banned book….love them all 😉 I celebrate BB week by annoying all my FB friends every year and posting a fact a day about a banned book. (I say annoy kiddingly)

  2. erin says:

    A Brave New World was my favorite book from high school. So glad that my school district didn’t deem it inappropriate for my age. Great post!

  3. karibradley7 says:

    I don’t know if I have a favorite. FAHRENHEIT 451 or SPEAK, probably. I think I’m going to borrow Rachel’s idea about posting a fact/comment a day on FB this week. 🙂 I love that these kids of lists are what introduced me to LOOKING FOR ALASKA, TWENTY BOY SUMMER and WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON. I look at the banned books list every year with my classes and when they ask about certain titles I’ve wanted to know why they are banned, too. Talk about knowledge being power–ironically enough, those books usually end up being the *most* powerful. WEIRD!

    • katyupperman says:

      Yeah, I remember a few years ago when some zealot challenged TWENTY BOY SUMMER. He hadn’t even read it, but he sure did give it TONS of publicity. Good thing, because it’s such a lovely book, and (in my opinion) in no way immoral or of questionable content. It seems like challenging/banning books is the surest way of ensuring that kids find them intriguing!

  4. Liz Parker (@LizParkerWrites) says:

    Hooray for banned books week (not for the banning, but the speaking out)! There’s some great information in this post–thanks for doing the research for us. I think one of my favorite banned books (one of my favorite books of all time) is A WRINKLE IN TIME, which is listed at number 23 of the 100 most-challenged books of 1990-1999 and at number 90 for 2000-2009, according to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

    • katyupperman says:

      Would you believe I haven’t read A WRINKLE IN TIME? I have seen the movie, though, and I WANT to read it, especially knowing that it was inspiration for Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME. Perhaps I’ll read it this month, in celebration of banned books. 🙂

  5. Lindsay says:

    Banned book week is such an interesting thing, isn’t it? You make a good point that it’s a completely subjective thing and quite frankly, I’m amazed books are still challenged. Great post, Katy.

    • katyupperman says:

      I find it amazing too, Lindsay. Especially since when a book is challenged, it immediately gets the “forbidden” vibe, which I think makes it more attractive to young people (and me!). Hopefully lots of challenged/banned books will get the attention they deserve in the coming days.

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