A Note From the Editor:
Suzanne Collins. Stephenie Meyer. J.K. Rowling. Mildred D. Taylor. Neal Shusterman. These are just a few of my favorite authors, and each one has their work(s) listed on the challenged/banned books list. September’s blog centers around Banned Book Week.
Young Adult dystopian books are my favorite genre to read. First, I love to escape into a newly imagined world and consider what life would be like there. Another reason I enjoy them is because my students and I read them together at the same time. We’d enjoy having conversations, discussions, and sharing reading a book together. My first year of teaching was when Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was published. I remember seeing multiple students struggling to put the book down during class, and I thought to myself “I should read this book to see why they can’t put it down”. Turns out, I couldn't either! Currently, I’m savoring Stephenie Meyer’s latest book, Midnight Sun, which is Twilight written from Edward’s perspective. The Twilight series is on the challenged/banned book list.
Unsurprisingly, I found many of my favorite books and series on the challenged/banned list. It is hard for me to imagine someone preventing me from reading them because each impacted me in some way. As a lifelong reader, I enjoy the ability to escape into a book. According to McNair (2016) stories should provide mirrors for us to see reflections of our own experiences, as well as mirrors to immerse ourselves in others’ experiences. We must make sure our students have reading material that allows them to do the same. After all, each of the dystopian worlds in which I have escaped has helped me consider my current reality, challenged ideas, and identify with characters. How has a banned or challenged book impacted your life?
Editor, NSLA Blog
McNair, J.C. (2016). #Weneedmirrorsandwindows: Diverse classroom libraries for K-6 students. The Reading Teacher, 70(3), 375-381.
Is Banned Book Week Still Relevant?
NSLA representative to Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska
Let’s begin with a little background information. Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It is promoted by the American Library Association, the International Literacy Association and others to call attention to banned and challenged books. In the case of Amnesty International, the focus is on individuals persecuted because of their writings or what they read.
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a substantial increase in the number of challenges to books in schools, libraries and bookstores. Nebraska was right in the middle of this. In 1987, The People for the American Way recognized the state for being #1 in attempts to censor books that came to completion!
Since 2011, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has designated the Wednesday of Banned Books Week as Banned Websites Awareness Day. Their goal is "to bring attention to the overly aggressive filtering of educational and social websites used by students and educators. In the AASL's 2012 national longitudinal survey, 94% of respondents said their school used filtering software, with the majority of blocked websites relating to social networking (88%), IM or online chatting (74%), gaming (69%), and video services like YouTube (66%). The AASL's position is that "the social aspect of learning" is important for students and that many schools go "beyond the requirements set forth by the Federal Communications Commission in its Child Internet Protection Act."
The American Library Association’s web site identifies cases studied annually. A good many of the challenges are brought by parents saying the books are age-inappropriate for children. In perusing the lists over the past 10 years, the topics most challenged in recent history deal with LGBTQIA, race and violence.
Like most things these days, even the notion of Banned Books has become controversial with educators, librarians and booksellers on one side, and groups like Focus on the Family on the other. Some allege that Banned Books is misleading because most books are only challenged and never actually banned or removed from shelves, and because these books can be purchased in book stores the government hasn’t banned the books. Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus on the Family said “The ALA has irresponsibly perpetrated the 'banned' books lie for too long...Nothing is 'banned,' but every year this organization attempts to intimidate and silence any parent, teacher or librarian who expresses concern about the age-appropriateness of sexually explicit or violent material for schoolchildren." Of course, the counter argument to no books have been banned is that educators, librarians and the public have developed plans and policies to defend the right to read and freedom to choose.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) is a valued source for librarians, teachers and others to find resources and support to address censorship. Some are copied below.
Produced by the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Book Censorship Action Kit provides basic information on censorship in public schools and details the steps that educators and librarians can take when facing a challenge.
The ALA provides a host of resources, including infographics, social media tools, classroom activities, and the Rebel Reader Twitter Tournament Toolkit of website banners, printable bookmarks, a coloring sheet, and suggested hashtags.
The Banned Books Week YouTube channel features videos of readers “exercising their First Amendment right to read a banned book.”
The New York Times compilation of “Ways to Celebrate Banned Books Week” includes lesson plans, infographics, writing prompts, and more.
Banned Books Week 2020 will be held September 27 – October 3. The theme of this year’s event is “Censorship is a dead end. Find your freedom to read!”
The OLF’s most recent Top Ten List of Challenged Books for 2019 is copied below:
George by Alex Gino
Reasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
Reasons: Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate”
Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Reasons: Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Reasons: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Reasons: Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole
Reason: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content
Look for ALA’s Top Challenged Books of 2020 list in April 2021!