Happy Banned Books Week!

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” – Oscar Wilde

Happy Banned Books Week!

My undergraduate minor is in Library Science, and (obviously) libraries hold a special place in my heart. I mean, where else can you get nearly any book you want for free? Over the past few months, I’ve become a tad obsessed with getting books that have been sitting on my Goodreads shelf for far too long.

One of the ideas that interested me (and terrified me) most about running a library is the idea of banned or challenged books. In the school system, forms of censorship take place daily, whether it be parents blatantly complaining about the books that is required or available to their children or if it is the librarian censoring the books that she chooses for her library.

The dilemma that faces every school librarian is the decision of whether or not to include specific books in their library. My Library Science teacher said many, many times that the American Library Association (ALA) would have “Highlights next to Playboys” if it were up to them. The ALA is the go-to for librarians who are looking for advice, but librarians obviously do not take this sentiment lightly. I’ve seen these handled in different ways, from high school libraries that have shelves available for only juniors and seniors to books that are only allowed to be checked out if the parent has signed off on it. These measures are to protect the librarians more than anything.

This is why ALA started celebrating Banned Books Week. This week is meant to celebrate our freedom to read books about anything we want to, as well as our freedom of speech to write books on any topic. Good books, books that get critical acclaim, books that we want the students to be reading, are not books that are soft and full of air. The books that are challenged are usually books that challenge the way we think and the way we view the world. Those are the books that push your brain and your outlook on life.

ALA published these findings between the years 2000 – 2009:

Over this recent past decade, 5,099 challenges were reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

  • 1,577 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
  • 1,291 challenges due to “offensive language”;
  • 989 challenges due to materials deemed “unsuited to age group”;
  • 619 challenged due to “violence”‘ and
  • 361 challenges due to “homosexuality.”

These are all themes that children (especially in middle and high school) deal with on a daily basis. The amazing thing is that so many books on ALA’s Frequently Challenged book list are required reading for high school students! Some of the challenges are a bit outlandish (i.e. Harry Potter and its wizardry), but others are seemingly justifiable (I mean, have you ever read The Chocolate War?). I wanted to take a moment to look at some of my favorite books that have surprisingly appeared on ALA’s Frequently Challenged Book List. Consequently, I recommend reading all of these books, because they are all phenomenal. (For a complete listing, check out ALA’s website.)

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” – Oscar Wilde
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Reasons Challenged: Language, Sexual References
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons Challenged: Illicit Substance Use, Sexual References, Suicide, Unsuited for Age Level
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
Reasons Challenged: Anti-Ethnic, Anti-Family, Insensitivity, Language, Satanism, Violence
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephan Chbotsky
Reasons Challenged:  Anti-Family, Illicit Substance Use, Homosexuality, Language, Religious Viewpoint, Sexual References, Suicide, Unsuited for Age Level 
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Reasons Challenged: Satanism, Language, Violence
 The Giver by Lois Lowry
Reasons Challenged: Language, Use of Mind Control, Infanticide, Euthanasia, Violence, Sexual References
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Reasons Challenged: Illicit Substance Use, Gang Violence, Language, Slang, Family Dysfunction
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons Challenged: Rape, Violence, Language
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Reasons Challenged: Language, Anti-Government
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Reasons Challenged: Rape, Violence, Language, Unsuited for Age Level

Some of these books are classics, while others are more contemporary fiction. Nonetheless, they are all well written books, and when I was a teenager in high school, I enjoyed reading books that appealed to things that I was going through, or that my friends were going through, even if reading about them didn’t seem “appropriate”. Students look for books they can relate to, and if those books present real life situations in a way that helps the students deal with the problems they are having in their lives, then I say let them read.

“The burning of a book is a sad, sad sight, for even though a book is nothing but ink and paper, it feels as if the ideas contained in the book are disappearing as the pages turn to ashes and the cover and binding–which is the term for the stitching and glue that holds the pages together–blacken and curl as the flames do their wicked work. When someone is burning a book, they are showing utter contempt for all of the thinking that produced its ideas, all of the labor that went into its words and sentences, and all of the trouble that befell the author . . .”
― Lemony Snicket,
The Penultimate Peril

One thought on “Happy Banned Books Week!

  1. Your librarian mom agrees with you, for the most part. I don't like suggesting books that I have not read but are recommended on reading lists. In a conservative community like ours, it is better to err on the side of caution. As my students mature in their reading, as you did, I'm sure they will pick up these awesome books and enjoy reading them.


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