For those who might not have been aware, this week, September 23-29, is Banned Books Week. Because I seem to have slipped back into the rabbit hole and cannot bring myself to write about any of the detritus swirling about in cyberspace today, I am instead writing about Banned Books Week.
What the heck, you ask, is Banned Books Week? According to the American Library Association …
Banned Books Week 2018 is September 23-29. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restricted in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.
Banned Books Week was launched in the 1980s, a time of increased challenges, organized protests, and the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content.
Banned books were showcased at the 1982 American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California. At the entrance to the convention center towered large, padlocked metal cages, with some 500 challenged books stacked inside and a large overhead sign cautioning that some people considered these books dangerous.
Today, Banned Books Week coverage by mainstream media reaches an estimated 2.8 billion readers, and more than 90,000 publishing industry and library subscribers. The Banned Books page remains one of the top two most popular pages on the ALA website.
Let’s take a look at the Top Ten Most Challenged Books for 2017 …
- Thirteen Reasons Why written by Jay Asher
Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie
Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
- Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
This Stonewall Honor Award-winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”
- The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
- George written by Alex Gino
Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
- Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex education and is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
- To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
- The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas
Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.
- And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.
- I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.
I have read two of the books on this list, The Kite Runner and To Kill A Mockingbird. Given that the majority of the books on the list are children’s books or YA (young adult), I have no real interest in reading those, but I do have some observations about the list.
No less than four of the ten books on this list are considered dangerous because they either address LGBT issues or contain an LGBT character or relationship. Come on … it is the 21st century, we have come out of the dark ages! If I still had a small child at home, you can bet I would be on Amazon right now ordering And Tango Makes Three!
As I said, I read The Kite Runner, and when I reached the end, I neither became a terrorist nor did I feel drawn to convert to Islam. Who thinks up these things? Wait … let me guess … white supremacist, heterosexual, male evangelicals.
Thirteen Reasons Why has been challenged and banned for discussing suicide. Well, guess what folks? Not discussing something doesn’t make it go away! Suicide among teens is a very real concern, for the teen years are a time of transition, a time when hormones are going crazy and life is confusing. It happens. Kids kill themselves. Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away! Parents rarely talk to their kids about suicide, fearing that an open, frank discussion might put the idea into their head. Perhaps this book is just the ticket for giving kids a better grasp of how to deal with their problems, what to do when they feel there is no other way out.
And by the way … regarding #6 on the list … how does discussing sex with a child, “make them want to have sex”? Isn’t that an idea that went out in the 19th century? Methinks some people need to grow up … or perhaps evolve?
I was looking back through the past several years of banned or challenged books, and the 2013 list brought a bit of jaw-dropping mirth. Here are the ones that made me roll my eyes or chuckle:
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (This one was banned because of ‘religious viewpoint’. Grrrrrrrrrrr)
A final observation. Looking at these lists, and the reasons that specific books are challenged or outright banned goes a long way toward explaining the bigotry, particularly against the LGBT community, that we are seeing come out of the woodwork today. A child who is shielded from all those who are slightly different in one way or another, whether the difference is skin colour, religion or sexual orientation, grows to adulthood without an understanding that it’s okay to be different. I’m glad I took a few minutes to look into Banned Books Week, for I hadn’t previously given it much thought, and awareness is key.