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Special Topics,  Thinking,  Writing and Reading

What is Banned Books Week and Why You Should Care

How often do you think about censorship? Banned books? I tend to think of censorship as it pertains to history — something that hasn’t happened much since the McCarthy era, right? So would you be surprised to find out that the American Library Association maintains a list of challenged (and sometimes banned) books by year? I was.

I am disgusted by the concept of censorship. It’s not difficult to connect dots between banning certain books and trends in discrimination. Besides, learning to sort through ideas with which one may or may not agree is vital to developing a mind capable of discernment and critical thinking. It’s only natural that I should have such a strong reaction: it runs in the family.

No Banned Books in THIS Family

When my mother was a little girl she spent a lot of time patronizing her local library. One  day she went to check out her stash of books, she was surprised when the librarian decided that one of them was ‘inappropriate’ and did not allow her to take it home.

To say that the librarian’s decision did not go  over well with my grandmother is quite an understatement. She very quickly found herself explaining to the librarian that she expected her child’s reading choices to be honored and, further, that she (my gram) was the only person with the authority to limit those choices.

I’m sure that librarian was doing her job in a way that would satisfy most parents, but my grandmother was an educator who believed in challenging her students — and her daughter. I’m grateful for her commitment to exploring ideas and cultures and for instilling the love of libraries and reading in the entire family. I often think of how much she would have enjoyed having internet access.

If you’ve not recently visited the American Library Association website, you’re in for a treat.It’s one of those sites where a person could get lost for hours. It was not easy to maintain a focus on #bannedbooks week. The following is from that site.

Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 377 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2019. Of the 566 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:

  1. George by Alex Gino  Reasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure.”
  2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased.
  3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
    Reasons: Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning.
  4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    Reasons: Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate.”
  5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
    Reasons: Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint.
  6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. Reasons: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged.”
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones.”
  8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals.”
  9. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
    Reasons: Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals.
  10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole  Reason: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content.

Taking Action During Banned Books Week

Typical of librarians and advocates for intellectual freedom, they offer a plan that provides a level of balance and intervention: a week of anti-censorship action. Here are some of those ideas.

Read a banned book… and show us your favorite banned book or snap a banned book “shelfie.”

Speak out about censorship… and share infographics or statistics about the harms of censorship.

Find out about how to participate in the Dear Banned Author letter-writing campaign, blog about unrestricted access, submit letters-to-the-editor of your local newspaper, publish a Facebook post about the harms of censorship.

I appreciate librarians for so many reasons. At the moment, making me pause to think about intellectual freedom and freedom of expression are at the top of my list. What’s at the top of yours? Tell us in the comments please.

 

7 Comments

    • Andrea

      I know it’s not an exact quote but you remind me of a member of the military saying, “I’d get a medal for killing a man, and punished for loving one.” Pretty screwed up values we have, huh?

  • Barbara Parcells

    Heck, I read Catcher In The Rye, the #1 banned book when I was a kid, just because I believed as your gran did that we have to make up our own minds about what is and isn’t acceptable (had to borrow it from a friend so my Mom wouldn’t find out). Lord of the Flies taught us what humans could be like when we’re thrown into a “them or me” situation, and The Invisible Man brought us face to face with racism. I can’t imagine my grandkids never knowing Harry Potter and learning that even the unloved underdog has worth and value.

  • Laura

    “I am disgusted by the concept of censorship. It’s not difficult to connect dots between banning certain books and trends in discrimination.” … I can’t agree more.

    Funny, when I watch period films especially during Anglo Saxon times, it’s interesting when you see kings omit history of heroes who saved their kingdoms cuz they didn’t want history to reflect more on hero than king.

    Really how it made me realize that history isn’t really history but propaganda of past events to benefit certain folks in the present.

    Actually surprised to see Handmaid’s Tale and Harry Potter on the “banned” list.

    Thank you for sharing this

  • Kelley Grimes

    Thank you for pointing out that the most common reason for books being challenged is for LGBTQIA+ content. This is a powerful example of systemic oppression of LGBTQIA+. People’s homophobia prevents others from the opportunity to read about LGBTQIA+ experiences and be able to see themselves in the characters of a book. I really appreciate your examples of ways to take action. Thank you so much Andrea!

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