Yesterday marked the beginning of Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read. Banned Books Week is sponsored by a number of organizations, including the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of American Publishers, and the American Booksellers Association and seeks to bring together all book lovers (teachers, librarians, book sellers, readers, and writers) “in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Each year, to raise awareness about censorship, the ALA compiles a list of books that have been banned or challenged during the past year, as published in their Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. This year’s list contains nearly thirty books. In addition to some newer YA books like Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (challenged for “its use of profanity and its treatment of sexuality”) there are also some important classics like Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize winning The Color Purple (used in an 11th-grade AP English class and challenged for “language and sexuality or ‘obscenity,’” as well as whether the book “that deals with issues of racism, violence against women, and rape, has literary value that was age appropriate for the students.”). All of the books on the list “represent requests to remove materials from schools or libraries, thus restricting access to them by others.”
Why is the list important?
Frequently, challenges are motivated by the desire to protect children. While the intent is commendable, this method of protection contains hazards far greater than exposure to the “evil” against which it is leveled. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v. Johnson, said, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Individuals may restrict what they themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or viewing that material.
I am a firm believer that readers of all ages (with the assistance and guidance of their parents and teachers, when appropriate) should be able to choose their own reading material without the restraints of censorship. I hope you will join me in celebrating Banned Books Week this year!
FIVE GREAT BOOKS TO READ IN CELEBRATION OF BANNED BOOKS WEEK:
This National Book Award winning middle-grade novel could be the poster book of Banned Books Week. Since 2010, it has been one of the top ten most frequently challenged books each year. A couple years ago, one parent claimed that it was “like a Fifty Shades of Grey for kids.”
Written as the diary of a fourteen-year-old Native-American high-school freshman, the book deals approachably and realistically about a number of important topics like bullying, poverty, racism, domestic violence, death, loss, grief, depression, loneliness, fighting with friends, alcoholism, and bulimia.
I reviewed this book in November 2013 (you can read my review here), and the focus of my review was the controversy surrounding the book. As I discuss in my review, this book illustrates the importance of access to information (and the danger of book banning). One school board that was provided only a couple pages of the book (an excerpt about masturbation) by an angry parent immediately voted to ban the book. But, after the board members read the book in its entirety, they reversed their decision, recognizing the value of this book to young people and the hasty error they made in banning it.
2) Harry Potter Series (Books 1-7) by J.K. Rowling
Guess which books were the most frequently banned books of the last decade? Sadly, yes, Harry and Hermione and Ron are the wizards topping the list of the “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.”
Included among the stated reasons for the bans and challenges of these books were the following:
- They are “anti-family.”
- They deal with the “occult/Satanism.”
Never mind that these magical books are about friendship and love and self-acceptance and courage and fighting for what’s right!
If you haven’t read them yet, what are you waiting for?! Banned Books Week is an excellent excuse to dive headfirst into the world of Quidditch and patronuses and Hogwarts. You won’t regret it!
3) The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I first read this book as a senior in high school, and it remains to this day one of my favorites. It is on this year’s list of banned and challenged books. One school board president in author Toni Morrison’s home state of Ohio challenged its inclusion on a high school’s suggested-reading list because the school board president claimed it was inappropriate for the school board to “even be associated with it.” In years past, it has been challenged for the following reasons: “Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.”
The book, about a poor, young black girl who thinks she is ugly and yearns for white skin and blue eyes, is a powerful look at racism and how societal constructs affect our notions of beauty. It was published in 1970 but remains extremely relevant today.
4) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson
After being named the national ambassador for young people’s literature (a position appointed by the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book and the nonprofit Every Child a Reader), Patterson was called a “foul-mouthed, sex-crazy Satanist”… likely by the same people that have caused this Newbery Medal winning book to be on the “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books by Decade” list for the past two decades (#8 for 1990-1999 and #28 for 2000-2009).
I read Bridge to Terabithia many, many times as a kid, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first book that made me cry. The book is about the importance of friendship and imagination. It is beautiful and sad and wonderful and everyone should read it.
5) The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Although this trilogy managed to evade censorship wrath this year, it has been a regular on lists of the Top Ten Most Frequently Banned/Challenged Books in previous years.
Wannabe censors claim that the books are “anti-ethnic” and “anti-family,” that it has “offensive language,” that it deals with the “occult” and is “satanic,” and that it has too much violence.
Sure, the books are violent (who can forget the havoc wreaked by that tracker jacker nest?), but they feature a bad-ass female protagonist who risks everything for her loved ones and stands up for what she believes in. Plus, she is smart and creative and brave. That’s definitely worth celebrating!
LOOKING FOR MORE WAYS TO CELEBRATE?
You can also check out the following books that were included on this year’s list of challenged or banned books, which I have previously reviewed:
- The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (reviewed April 3, 2014)
- Looking for Alaska by John Green (reviewed February 6, 2014)
BROWSE SOME OF ALA’S BANNED/CHALLENGED LISTS FOR EVEN MORE WAYS TO CELEBRATE!
- The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2013
- The Top 100 Most Frequently Banned/Challenged Books of the Decade (2000-2009)
- Banned/Challenged Classics
- Most Frequently Challenged Authors of the 21st Century
ONE MORE SIMPLE WAY TO CELEBRATE!
Do you love The Kite Runner or The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird? They’ve all been banned or challenged! If you have a favorite book that has been banned or challenged, please share it in the comments below. Please bring awareness to censorship by letting us know why people should read your favorite banned/challenged book!