Sunday September 25- October 1 is 2016’s Banned Book Week. Since the 80’s the designated week is a time for teachers and parents to encourage their children to read books that push barriers, broach hard topics, and create engaging conversations. Every year the American Library Association keeps tracks of all of the titles that have been challenged or banned in both school and community libraries.
When I was a freshman in undergrad, I did one of my year end projects on the ALA and banned books. It was so interesting and also somewhat mind blowing to research some of the reasons that certain titles are banned. “Sexually explicit” content and “language” are the two most cited reasons that a title is challenged and the majority of the time it is a parent that submits the challenge. While these two reasons are understandable for a parent to say, “hold off on reading this title” to their child it does not give them the right to make that decision for an entire school or town. Censorship on literature is just one more way the sheltering parents of today are blinding their kids to the world around them. This topic makes me so mad! Encouraging children to read is one of the most important things in a child’s young life; it is an incredibly fundamental part of embarking on their education. However, when a person steps in and denies any title to someone, that is just unfair.
The top 10 most frequently banned books of 2015 were
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
- I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
- The Holy BibleThe Holy Bible
Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
- Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
- Habibi, by Craig Thompson
Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
- Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
- Two Boys KissingTwo Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).
As you can see, these objections are not confined to newly published titles . I Am Jazz is a kids book about a child who dealt with transgender issues and was published in 2014. It is based on real events in the author’s life yet one of the reasons for it’s being banned is that it is inaccurate. EXCUSE ME?!?! REAL EVENTS!!! While the “reasons” for banning a book vary, there is a common theme that is easily detectable. If someone doesn’t agree with something or might be afraid of something due to close mindedness, then it is challenged. Some of my favorite books and titles that have really stuck with me are on these lists. From 13 Reasons Why to A Wrinkle in Time, there is no genre or style that is safe!
According to the ALA, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.” While it is difficult to push through a ban, that doesn’t stop the attempt nor does it lessen the amount of challenges submitted each year.
Organizations such as the ALA and the Banned Books Week campaign are incredibly important in drawing attention to the titles that receive the most scrutiny and hate. There are amazing lists on the ALA’s website which show the top 100 banned books, break lists down by years, and keeps track of all the ludicrous ideas behind why a title should be taken off of a shelf. The Banned Books Week website has a breakdown of events that take place in each state that promote literacy and encourage reading.
I highly encourage you to cruise around both websites and get involved with your local libraries and bookstores particularly this week as they make an extra effort to get knowledge (and a good read) into the hands of anyone who wants it. There are usually really great displays that libraries and bookstores will create to show off popular banned titles. This always makes me so happy to see because it is putting all of these “dangerous” works into one space and defying the challenges put forth by those who would see them disappeared forever.