This week, 22 September thru 28 September, is Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association (ALA) …
Banned Books Week (September 22-28, 2019) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. 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 for removal or restriction 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.
And yet … and yet, schools and libraries are still banning books. Take a look at some that were banned just last year …
- George by Alex Gino – banned because it features a transgender character
- A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss – banned for LGBTQ content, political & religious viewpoints
- Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey – banned because it includes a same-sex couple, and also was felt to ‘encourage disruptive behaviour’
Are you starting to see a pattern here? How the heck are we ever to break the chain of homophobia if we don’t allow young people to be exposed to the LGBT community???
- Drama by Raina Telgemeier – banned because it features LGBTQ characters
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – banned because it deals with teen suicide
- Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Schachner – banned because the lead character, a Siamese cat, ‘depicts cultural stereotypes’
- This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman – banned because of illustrations of a Pride parade
In 2018, more than half the books that drew complaints did so because they contained LGBTQ content, according to ALA. Other reasons include profanity, sexually explicit content, religious viewpoints and materials that candidly portray injustices and inequality experienced by people of color.
Now, mind you I do understand that there is such a thing as age-appropriate content, and I wouldn’t necessarily want a third-grade child to be reading Mein Kampf. But, to ban books because they might open a young readers mind to the possibility that there are other acceptable lifestyles and viewpoints besides the ones they are exposed to at home is simply narrow-minded bigotry.
In 2017, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was banned because some felt it would ‘lead to terrorism’ and ‘promote Islam’. How is that not racist and Islamophobic? In the same year, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was challenged because of the use of the ‘N-word’. Heck, when I was 10 years old, I was bedridden for a period of time, and every evening my father would read to me from Catcher in the Rye!!! I suppose today’s society would be aghast, yes?
In 2016, the Little Bill series written by Bill Cosby was banned because of the sexual allegations against Mr. Cosby … not because of anything in the books, and frankly I have read those books to my granddaughter and it is an excellent series. But some, it seems, would throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Some that have been banned in year’s past … makes no sense at all …
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein was banned because it was interpreted as being sexist. Some readers believe that the young boy continually takes from the female tree, without ever giving anything in return. As the boy grows up, he always comes back to the tree when he needs something, taking until the tree has nothing left to give him.
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss was banned … this one will really make you roll your eyes … because it was believed to portray logging in a poor light and would turn children against the foresting industry.
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has been challenged numerous times, as it is considered by some “too dark”, and psychologically damaging and traumatizing to young children due to Max’s inability to control his emotions and his punishment of being sent to bed without dinner.
Today, with the far-right evangelicals attempting to impose their own beliefs on society as a whole … a group that is anti-LGBT, anti-women’s rights, anti-immigrants, anti-everyone-who-is-not-Christian … it is more important than ever that we guard against censorship in our schools and libraries. Books open pathways in our minds, delight us with the unknown, and teach … teach us about other cultures, other lifestyles. I find it frightening that some communities would stifle the knowledge and pleasure that is to be found in books of all sorts. Censorship is just another form of bigotry.