Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week begins today…

From BannedBooksWeek.orgBanned 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 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported. 

As a writer of young adult fiction that’s intended 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 educate their children as they see fit, and to keep them from material they deem inappropriate. Librarians, teachers, religious organizations, and politicians should not.

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 pretty vague and subjective, isn’t it? 

Most Challenged Books of 2012*:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey – Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie – Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher – Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group.
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit.
  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson – Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group.
  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini – Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwart – Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence.
  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit.
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison – Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence.

And, a few Classics that have been challenged at one time or another*: The Great Gatsbyby F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Ryeby 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.

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 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, talk about, and recommend banned and challenged books. (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!)

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.


18 thoughts on “Banned Books Week

  1. Alison Miller says:

    Like I always do – with LOTS of reading. Especially reading of challenged books. Oh, that and the banned books hop. 🙂 And my favorite banned book? Hunger Games, Looking for Alaska, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Anything Ellen Hopkins.

    Clearly, I have too many favorite banned books. 🙂

    Great post, Katy!

  2. Rebecca says:

    I never do anything during Banned Books Week but I might go through my shelf and see if I have a book that qualifys and finally read it! Might also see if I can get a post up on the blog…

    • katyupperman says:

      I bet you do have books that qualify, Rebecca. There are so many on the “challenged” lists for (what I think are) absolutely ridiculous reasons. Let me know what you end up reading!

  3. Liz Parker (@LizParkerWrites) says:

    The fact that “homosexuality” is a reason to ban a book infuriates me. Okay, now that that is off my chest, I don’t really have any plans to celebrate other than keep reading and writing and being a lover of books. And probably post lots of Banned Books related paraphernalia on my Tumblr. Thanks for the write up of 2012 banned books!

  4. Jaime Morrow says:

    I still haven’t read LOOKING FOR ALASKA, so I think this might be the week to finally tackle it. I also still need to read my copy of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER too. Book banning drives me seriously bonkers, especially when I read the reasons cited for doing so. Really? Ugh.

    • katyupperman says:

      Oh, I love LOOKING FOR ALASKA! It’s my favorite of JG’s books. PERKS is fantastic too. You’ll have to read it and then watch the movie, which is also awesome! 🙂

  5. Rebekah says:

    First, I agree with Liz. A book shouldn’t be banned for representing a sexual preference, whether gay or straight. Sexual discovery, especially for YA readers, is a big part of the human experience.

    In high school I went through a phase where I read only banned books, using them for reports and presentations. In a society as declaratively progressive as America, the fact that we still have banned books shows just how far we still need to go.

    • katyupperman says:

      I agree, Rebekah. “In a society as declaratively progressive as America, the fact that we still have banned books shows just how far we still need to go.” <— So well said!

  6. Jennifer Pickrell says:

    Happy Banned Books Week! It has always felt sort-of like a holiday to me, especially when I was a kid, like, “oh good, now I get to find out which books have bad words!” (hah). My local library does this thing, which I love – they have a display of books wrapped in brown paper with the reason for the ban written on the outside. It definitely gets people’s attention!

    • katyupperman says:

      Ooh, I love how your library celebrates, Jennifer! What a fantastic idea for grabbing people’s attention and illustrating the absurdity of challenging books based on such subjective reasons.

  7. Eve says:

    I hate when people ban books for reasons that are unclear or just vague and expect everyone to be on board with them making decisions for the entire populace. Of those mentioned above I haven’t read any but from what I do know of them the only one I can see being banned from a high school library is the Fifty Shades, don’t get me wrong people can and should read what they want, but books listed in the erotica section I can see not being allowed in a school library. Anyways any books I hear are banned or unapproved in my area I have a tendency to want to read just to prove that I have the power to choose to read what I want and no one can control me or take away my right, or maybe I’m just stubborn.

    • katyupperman says:

      Yes, I agree that novels classified as erotica don’t belong in a high school library, but I don’t necessarily think they should be BANNED. There are thousands of non-erotic novels that librarians should probably consider stocking their high school libraries with before taking on something like FIFTY SHADES. Let’s hope that’s the case in the majority of high school libraries. 🙂

  8. Kaitlin Bartlett says:

    YAY BANNED BOOKS! They somehow always wind up as some of my favorites. 🙂 Just reread Hunger Games and will be reading Absolutely True Story soon (both for my YA Lit class).

    Harry Potter holds a special place in my heart, so it’s probably my favorite of the banned/challenged books, though all the drama surrounding that has calmed down in the past few years. Thank goodness!

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