Friday, September 30, 2016


I'm a big fan of Banned Books displays in libraries and bookshops around this time of year (Banned Books Week is coming to a close on Saturday). They are by nature provocative, another thing I enjoy--especially in books. When we put together these displays we are provoking a conversation about censorship and intellectual freedom (a big deal to librarians) that we need to keep having, year after year. Book challenges in the United States continue, with the same books popping up on the lists over and over. They are removed or attempted to be removed from public and school library shelves and from course curricula. A number of book challenges have made the news this year, including a proposed (and vetoed) bill right here in Virginia, and while we see a lack of diversity in the publishing industry, the list of book challenges year to year are rather diverse.
How many of your youthful favorites on this table?

"Criminalizes the Foresting industry"?!  

This year the official Banned Books Week Facebook page posted a poll asking people to vote on which character from a banned book they would most like to have lunch with.
Willy Wonka won by a substantial margin. I personally find him to be too unsettling to dine with.

2015 saw a lot of challenges to books with LGBT themes. From the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2015 are:

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

  • Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James

  • Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).

I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

  • Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin

  • Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

  • Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).

The Holy Bible

  • Reasons: Religious viewpoint.

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

  • Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).

Habibi, by Craig Thompson

  • Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter

  • Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan

  • Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

*Note the burning books
A little history*: The Decameron, a 14th century Italian collection of short stories, was one of many books (see also Candide by Voltaire, and The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer) banned from US mail under the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act (Comstock Law) of 1873, which banned the sending or receiving of works containing "obscene," "filthy," or "inappropriate" material.
*Thanks, Wikipedia.
I thought I'd share with you my top ELEVEN (I will not be oppressed by this global obsession with round numbers) favorite challenged books. These come from the ALA OIF list of the top 100 challenges of the past 25 years (as long as they've been keeping track).

Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
*I was devastated when the new edition of this series came out a few years ago without Stephen Gammel's haunting, disturbing, creepy as anything illustrations.
The Witches, by Roald Dahl
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

Many more of my favorites are on these lists, most of them childhood favorites from the hours and hours spent hiding in a corner of my neighborhood branch captivated by a stack of picture books. I can't imagine my life without them.

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