Are You Reading Banned Books?

I used to teach a course for a university about banned and challenged books and many of my students were surprised to learn that books were being taken off the shelves here in the US.

It may not be that surprising to you, now, because book challenges and bans have seen an increase in news coverage of late, but if you are unaware, here is a brief rundown of what can happen to a book that someone deems inappropriate for others to read.

  1. A book gets challenged. A parent or patron decides the book is not suitable for public consumption.
  2. A book gets reviewed. The library board, or some other governing power, reviews the challenge.
  3. A book gets banned. After reviewing the book, it could get pulled from the shelf if the challenge is upheld, keeping others from reading it.

Generally, the ban isn’t nationwide. The book is removed from the shelves of one specific library. Many people believe that if the book is removed from one library, there are still ways to access it if someone wants to read it. And theoretically, that is true. It is often still available at a nearby library, a bookstore, or online, but there is more to it than that.

Banning books is censorship.

Banning books is a form of censorship even if is it limited to one school library.

Some people do not have the means to travel to the nearby library or have the money to purchase the book at the bookstore or have access to the internet to buy and download the book online or have something to read it on if they can download it.

So, for some, removing a book from one library takes it out of their hands completely.

This, of course, is the outcome the challengers want because they believe the book is so egregious that nobody should read it. They are deciding morality and exposure to ideas and situations for everyone.

I would argue that fighting censorship is the most important issue because if we are not able to read and write freely, all other fights for freedoms and rights are silenced.

Book challenges are on the rise. 2021 saw the most challenges and titles targeted in the history of tracking challenges. And 2022 is on pace to beat those numbers.

“The unprecedented number of challenges we’re seeing already this year reflects coordinated, national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond the confines of personal experience,” said ALA President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada.

American Library Association Press Release

It is important to note that most people do not agree with banning books.

The people who want to remove books from library shelves are in the minority, but because they get a lot of publicity, it feels like they are bigger in number.

Because they get so much publicity, and it feels like they are bigger groups of people than in reality, sometimes their challenges turn into bans unless people organize a protest to protect the book. These protests are often successful, thankfully, but not always. And what happens when they are not successful?

Reading books about difficult subjects offers a safe space for kids (sometimes the only safe space a child has) to explore their feeling and beliefs. If the child has a supportive family, reading a book together and discussing the content is a great way to open communication about subjects that are difficult to bring up.

And when the discussion happens within the confines of what happens on the pages of a book, it can feel safe for both the child and adult in the conversation.

When books are removed from shelves (or never stocked for fear of controversy), these moments of safe learning are also removed, leaving a child to learn these lessons in real life without any guidance on how to handle them.

Challenge Reasons

Top reasons for challenging books in 2021:

  • Obscene
  • LGBTQIA
  • Woke
  • Sexually explicit
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Indoctrinating kids
  • Profanity
  • Pornography
  • Racially divisive
  • Polarizing

Though talking with librarians about book challenges, it is often noted that the parent or patron challenging the book has not even read it. They are challenging it based on reputation or a snippet they read out of context. Many libraries will require the patron to read the book before lodging an official challenge. If that happens, I don’t know. But I do wonder how many challenges there would be if there wasn’t at least an attempt made to have the patron read the book they want to challenge.

Banned Books Week 18 – 24 September 2022

Banned Books Week is a celebration of our freedom to read. It brings awareness to the issue of book challenges and bans, but it is a conversation that we need to have throughout the year.

There are several ways to support Banned Books Week, the easiest of which is to read and share about a banned or challenged book that you like, or one that impacted you.

I read banned books

Here are a few books on the top 10 most challenged list according to the American Library Association from 2012-2021 that impacted me in some way (in no particular order):

*Note that many of these books made the list many times before 2012 as well.

*The links to these books are affiliate links to Bookshop.org. By using the links to purchase the book, you support an author of a banned/challenged book, independent bookstores, and me. Thank you.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (top 10 most challenged book in 2012, 2017, and 2018 for teen suicide, drugs/alcohol/smoking, and unsuited for age group)

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (top 10 most challenged book in 2012, 2014, 2017, and 2019 for homosexuality, anti-family, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and promotes homosexual agenda)

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (top 10 most challenged book in 2013, 2014 for drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, date rape, and masturbation)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (top 10 most challenged book in 2013 for religious viewpoint and unsuited for age group)

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (top 10 most challenged book in 2013, 2014, 2020, and 2021 for child sexual abuse, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited for age group, and violence)

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (top 10 most challenged book in 2014 for gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, politically/racially/socially offensive, and graphic depictions)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (top 10 most challenged book in 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2021 for profanity, violence, anti-police message, indoctrination of social agenda, drug use, sexual references, and pervasively vulgar)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (top 10 most challenged book in 2020 for political viewpoint, biased against male students, rape, and profanity)

Final thoughts

In addition to safe openings to begin hard conversations, these books provide safe spaces for people to see themselves, see others who are going through the same things, and feel connected and less alone.

These books are important to young people (and adults).

You can find more ways to support Banned Books Week on the American Library Association website or the Banned Books Week Coalition website.

I want to hear from you!