Each year, during the last week in September, the reading community celebrates Banned Books Week and the freedom to read. In addition to emphasizing the liberty to read and the ability to obtain information regardless the subject matter, Banned Books Week also brings to light the harms of censorship. According to the American Library Association, 348 books in schools and libraries were challenged in 2010. We as readers, writers, teachers, and librarians, can help teach the importance of our First Amendment rights. It is important to recognize the books that are unjustly challenged and sometimes banned and be aware of the dangers of suppressing intellectual freedom.
So, why are some books challenged?
Many times a book is challenged with the intentions of protecting others, particularly children, from what the challenger considers inappropriate. This censorship occurs in classrooms, schools, and public libraries, but according to ALA and The Library Bill of Rights, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.”
There are those who would read a book about a sixteen year old boy leaving his Pennsylvania boarding school for an adventure in New York City and argue that there is excessive violence, offensive language, and sexual references contained within (Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger) and prohibit the presence of that book in a classroom or school library.
Books challenged due to violence accounted for 533 reports between 2001 and 2010, while sexually explicit material and offensive language accounted for 1,536, and 1,231 reports, respectively. Other classics that have been challenged and or banned include: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Animal Farm by George Orwell, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. This list is by no means exhaustive.
If you think only classics are challenged or that books aren’t banned or disputed in our modern society, you would be severely mistaken. Recently published books, like Crank by Ellen Hopkins(published in 2004), Ttyl by Lauren Myracle(2005), and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky(1999)are some of the books to have been challenged due to any number of reasons, including offensive language, sexual explicitness, violence, drugs, being unsuitable to a particular age group, and for certain religious viewpoints.
Out of the 348 books challenged in 2010 the top ten were:
1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
6. Lush, by Natasha Friend
7. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
10.Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
(2010 was not the first year some of these titles were challenged.)
Organizations like the American Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, and American Booksellers Association, among many others, work together to educate and inform the public about the potential dangers to restricting freedom of choice that is pivotal to our society.
Below is a sample of some of the most frequently challenged young adult books from the last decade:
The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) (series)
by Philip Pulman
by Philip Pulman
Accompanied by her shape-shifting daemon, Lyra Belacqua sets out to prevent her best friend and other kidnapped children from becoming the subject of gruesome experiments in the Far North.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
A traumatic event near the end of the summer has a devastating effect on Melinda's freshman year in high school.
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
Seventeen-year-old Troy, depressed, suicidal, and weighing nearly 300 pounds, gets a new perspective on life when a homeless teenager who is a genius on guitar wants Troy to be the drummer in his rock band.
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
A young girl is shocked to discover the face on a milk carton is her face when she was a young child. Are her parents her real parents, or was she kidnapped as a young child?
Life is Funny by E.R. Frank
The lives of a number of young people of different races, economic backgrounds, and family situations living in Brooklyn, New York, become intertwined over a seven year period.
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
Intellectually and athletically gifted, TJ, a multiracial, adopted teenager, shuns organized sports and the gung-ho athletes at his high school until he agrees to form a swimming team and recruits some of the school's less popular students.
As we all know books can be a means of escape for children, a way to relate to others, and just simply a form of enjoyment. If you haven’t read a banned or challenged book, I encourage you to pick one up today, and see what all the talk is about.
Check back every day this week for more on Banned Books Week, including an interview with Cheryl Rainfield, YA author of Scars, a book that has also been challenged.
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Fifteen-year-old Kendra, a budding artist, has not felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially since she cannot remember her abuser's identity, and she copes with the pressure by cutting herself.
What banned books have you read?