One of my favorite classes to teach was called Banned and Burned Books. Most of my students were not aware that censorship of books happens in the United States; they felt it was a problem in other countries, but not here.
It is such a problem in the U.S. that there is a week to celebrate our freedom to read and raise awareness of the issue – Banned Books Week. If you visit a library during the last week in September, you could possibly find a display about it. We have one week dedicated to discussing the problem, but we should be worried about it all year.
Banned books are generally localized, meaning the book is pulled from a shelf at one library, not across the country, which is why a lot of people don’t even know it happens. Here is a quick, simplified rundown of how a book gets taken off a shelf:
- Someone challenges a book. A parent or patron decides the book is not suitable for public consumption.
- The library board, or some other governing power, reviews the challenge.
- Reviewers recommend removing the book from the collection.
A book must be subversive to be removed, right? Wrong. Some of my most favorite books often appear on the most challenged list. For example:
- The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Crank by Ellen Hopkins
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell & Justin Richardson
Books make the list for several different reasons, and often, the challenger has not fully read it. It is also important to note two things:
- A challenge does not mean the book will be banned.
- Most people challenge books with good intentions.
You know what they say about good intentions…
Books often create a safe space for people, especially young people, to explore their world and their beliefs. They can read about a difficult or dangerous life scenario and be better equipped to handle a similar situation if it should ever enter their existence. Ignorance of what happens in the world does not protect us. Knowledge gives us power.
The American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom promotes Banned Books Week and offers several ways for you to get involved. You already completed one by reading this post: Get informed! Here are two more things anyone can easily do!
- Participate in Stand for the Banned Virtual Read-out, where you video yourself reading an excerpt from one of your favorite banned books.
- Write a letter to your favorite banned or challenged author. Show them you support their work!
I will do both items listed above and encourage you to do something, too! Visit ALA’s website for more ideas and be sure to watch my social media pages to see what else I am doing this week!
Do you have a favorite book on the most challenged list? Share your favorites in the comments!