Banned Books Week: Books Unite Us

It’s Banned Books Week, that wonderful time of year that we celebrate all the wonderful books that have been challenged, banned, or censored.

The ALA tracked 156 challenges last year; here are the top 10 most challenged books of 2020.

Congrats to author Jason Reynolds, who managed to have two books on the list this year (#2 and #3). I discovered his writing when his middle grade book Ghost made the Great American Read’s top 100 list. I absolutely loved that series and I can’t wait to read more from him. He’s also just a really cool person and I love hearing him talk about writing.

We’ve actually had a recent local kerfuffle that you may have seen making the national news…a college writing course at a local high school was using a book (for five years) that had some more mature writing prompts involving sex and drug use. Though these specific prompts had never been assigned, and parents had to sign a waiver acknowledging adult themes in the class, the book was pulled after some parents complained. The town’s mayor then publicly accused the school board of child pornography and demanded they resign. The county prosecutor had to state that there was no basis for the child pornography claims; no one from the school board has resigned. I have no idea if the book was actually a useful tool for the students, but all the pearl-clutching is pretty embarrassing.

Banned Books Week 2019

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It’s our yearly celebration of banned books!  Every September, the American Library Association sponsors Banned Books Week to focus on challenges to books, graphic novels, and other media in American libraries and schools.  I disagree with such attempts at censorship and am proud to read banned books, which often contain the most powerful and important ideas.

The Banned Books Week display at my local library

There were 347 challenges recorded by the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom in 2018.  Here are the most frequently challenged books (infographic courtesy of the ALA).

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I have only read one book on this list, #4: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  I wrote about it last year for Banned Books week.  It is a wonderful book and I really feel that high schoolers could benefit from reading it.  It functions both as a commentary on current events and also as a portrait of contemporary American family life.  If you are concerned about its content, try using it to start a conversation, like Starr’s father does with Tupac’s music and “THUG LIFE” concept.

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Have you read any of the books from the list?  What banned books have impacted your life?

Banning Books Silences Stories: BBW 2018

Every year, the American Library Association and other groups sponsor a week-long celebration of intellectual freedom: Banned Book Week, the last week in September.  The main goal of BBW is to protest censorship and acknowledge books that have been challenged, praising them for their value and meaning and their ability to change lives.

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All graphics from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/freedownloads

The theme this year is very meaningful in light of the #ownvoices movement, speaking to the idea that banning books takes away the voice of authors and readers who are seeking to validate their own identities and experiences through fiction.

Did you know that books are challenged in schools and libraries every year?  In 2017, there were 354 challenges, up from 323 in 2016.  Here are the top 10 most challenged books from the last year.

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It is an interesting mix; the majority of the books deal with racial or LGBT+ content.  There are classics, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, which was also included in PBS’s Great American Read list.  And there are some brand new books, such as The Hate U Give.  This is a very interesting inclusion because it was only published in February of last year, yet it already made the most challenged list.  That says to me that it is a powerful book, which is certainly corroborated by the number of awards it has won.

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I’m excited to be reading The Hate U Give this week.  It has some difficult subject matter; as you can see, it was challenged for its “vulgarity” and depictions of drug use, to say nothing of its very timely portrayal of a police shooting.  You can read more about the challenges against the book on the Banned Books Week website.

As a parent myself, I understand the instinct to want to shield our kids from anything upsetting or dangerous, thinking that they are not prepared to handle it.  But drug use and police shootings are facts of life, and how will kids ever be prepared to handle these concepts if they don’t first read and think about them?  We are not required to agree with the viewpoint of everything we read; in fact, we can better understand our own feelings and opinions by reading points of view that challenge them.

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The Hate U Give has a lot to offer readers of all ages, including a fresh, young, authentic voice in its protagonist Starr.  I love Starr’s progression as she processes her grief and trauma, finding her voice and speaking out for justice with courage.  I really recommend it, and I’m looking forward to the movie adaptation coming out next month, too.

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Have you guys read any of these (or other) banned books?  Which is your favorite?

Words Have Power: Banned Books Week

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This week (September 24-30, 2017) is the annual Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and others.  The ALA has a department called the Office for Intellectual Freedom, which records “challenges” to books in public schools, libraries, etc. every year.  Last year in 2016 there were 323 challenges.

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There are many reasons why books are challenged; here’s the list of the ten most frequently challenged books last year, along with why they were challenged.

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Several of these are YA books; several are graphic novels.  The only book I’ve read is Eleanor & Park, which is a truly wonderful book that really touched me.  You can read my thoughts on it here.  It was challenged for its “offensive language,” which I honestly don’t remember.  Maybe there were some kind of slurs in it?  I don’t believe the book portray this language in a positive way, but rather as a realistic part of the sometimes harsh lives of these teenagers.  Here’s an interesting article on the challenges to Eleanor & Park, as well as the author’s reaction to them.

Several of these books I can understand may not be appropriate for certain age levels.  I always support parents taking an interest in what their kids are reading.  However, that does not give someone the right to determine what other parents’ kids are reading, and that is what censorship does.  Banning or removing books takes away our freedom to information, our freedom to read what we want.

Have you read any of the top ten banned books?  Any other challenged books you are reading?  Here’s some more info about book challenges in the US.

Banned Books Week 2016

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It’s Banned Books Week!  This event, which takes place this year from September 25-October 1, celebrates our freedom to read and brings attention to the harms of censorship.

Last year, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 275 challenges to literature around the country (down from 311 in 2014).  Here’s the list of the top ten most challenged books last year.

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Of the top ten list, I have only read the Bible (not the whole thing; I’m Catholic ~_^).  I love the note that someone challenged it because it was “illegal.”  I must assume that this was in a public school.  I would still support the critical study of the Bible as literature in a public school setting, along with other religious texts, in a pertinent class.

This week, I am reading the graphic novel V for Vendetta.  To my knowledge this book has not been banned (thought China did not allow the release of the 2006 movie adaptation), but it is still very appropriate because of its condemnation of government censorship.  While we here in the US are lucky to have our freedoms protected by the First Amendment, we must still be careful  before allowing other citizens to decide what it okay for us and our children to read.  That decision is best left in the hands of the reader, or their guardians.

Knowledge, like air, is vital to life.  Like air, no one should be denied it.

There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill.  There’s only an idea.  Ideas are bulletproof.

–V (Alan Moore, V for Vendetta)

Have you read any of these books?  Which is your favorite?  Are you reading any banned books this week?