Banned Books Week

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. 

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.”

Vague and subjective, right? 

Most Challenged Books of 2013*:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey – Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence.
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie – Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James – Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age.
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins – Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group.
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone – Reasons: Drugs/alcohol, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit.
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green – Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky – Reasons: drugs/alcohol, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age.
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya – Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith – Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence.

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.

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.

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, as well as BannedBooksWeek.org. Please do visit these sites for more information.

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5 responses to “Banned Books Week

  1. The “unsuited to age group” complaint is the one that puzzles me the most – what does that even mean? I like to read a challenged book during this week, either from the display my library sets up or from my own shelf. This year I think it’ll be Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher.

    • I mean, I get that FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY is “unsuited to age group” when it comes to being stocked in an elementary school library, but that’s why we have intelligent and informed librarians who are tasked with stocking shelves. Enjoy STAYING FAT, Jennifer. I haven’t read that one, but perhaps this is the week to check it out!

  2. Great post, Katy, and happy banned books week! My favorite banned book of recent years is Looking for Alaska (I actually cohorsed my principal in HS to letting me use it for book club…he told us to “skip over the chapter w/the oral sex bit” but well when no one is monitoring you and you’re 15 😉 ).

    • I loved LOOKING FOR ALASKA as well, Rachel. Also, anything by Judy Blume and Sherman Alexie, plus TWENTY BOY SUMMER and THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. So many amazing stories on these challenged/banned lists!

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