Who would have thought that censorship is alive and well in the United States? Yet, nowhere is it seen more explicitly than in recent attempts to ban or challenge various books from being made available through school, public, and university libraries.
While there may be valid concern over a particular book’s effect on its intended audience, banning books is not the answer; more discussion and education about the sometimes controversial issues these books address is. (As an example of one such concern, the Wake County Schools recently repeated a warning to parents originally issued by the National Association of School Psychologists not to allow students prone to depression to watch–or not to watch alone–the first season of the Netflix teen drama series “Thirteen Reasons Why,” over fear of the potential for increased teen suicides it might spawn. The show is based on Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, and that novel is #1 on 2017’s top 10 list of most frequently challenged books. For more information about Wake County Schools’ actions, see this May 7, 2018 article in the Raleigh News and Observer. It’s important to note that the Wake County Schools have not banned the original novel on which the series is based).
This year, The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 354 challenges to library, school and university materials in 2017, involving 416 books challenged or banned in 2017 (some challenges may have included more than one title). And the number of challenges keeps going up: 2017’s challenged/banned books totaled 31% more than 2016’s, and 2016’s number of challenged books was 17% higher than the year before that. Often, but not always, challenged or banned books are children’s or young adult books, many of which are considered classics.
Along with 13 other organizations, the ALA sponsors Banned Books Week every year to encourage readers to resist these censorship threats by checking out challenged or banned books, thereby making their own decisions about the books they read. This year’s Banned Books Week theme is Banning Books Silences Stories. Speak Out! Banned Books Week 2018 is being celebrated from September 23-29.
In celebration of Banned Books Week, Hackney Library has put on display copies of print books in our collection that have made Banned Books lists in the past (look for the bright yellow “Caution!” tape around the display near the library’s Technology Classroom on the first floor). Some of the titles of challenged or banned books in our display may really surprise you. Our display will begin on Monday, September 24; all the titles on the display may be checked out.
The reasons for book challenges and bans run the gamut across the political and social spectrum; the most frequently-cited reasons for book challenges include the following:
- Sexually explicit content
- Offensive language
- Content unsuited to the targeted age group
- Expression of religious viewpoint
- Drug use
The top 10 challenged books in 2017, listed below, include mostly titles that Hackney Library does not own, except for number 4, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner; and number 7, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Some are repeats from previous years’ lists, while others are included for the first time.
TOP 10 CHALLENGED OR BANNED BOOKS OF 2017 from ALA’s web site):
- 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 (in Hackney Library’s Fiction Collection: Call number F H7949k) 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 (In Hackney Library’s Young Adult Collection: Call number YA L512t) 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.
So let’s not silence those stories, let’s talk about them instead: “Speak out” against censorship by checking out a banned or challenged book from our display today!