Hanging with the Banned by Janene Hill, Young Adult Librarian


Psst… don’t tell – I read banned books.
You probably have too and may not even know it.
Harry Potter anyone? How about To Kill a Mockingbird, The Giver, or The Kite Runner. Alice Walker, Philip Pullman, Judy Blume, Chris Crutcher, Kurt Vonegut, R.L. Stine, Caroline Cooney… all have books on the list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for the past decade.
This year, as I search for my annual “challenged title” to read for Banned Books Week (September 24-October 1), I have examined the most commonly challenged titles as compile through the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. To my surprise and delight, I found I have already read half the books on the list.
In 2010, the most commonly challenged titles included: And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; Crank by Ellen Hopkins; The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins; Lush by Natasha Friend; What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones; Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich; Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie; Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer.
This week marks the 29th year the American Library Association (ALA) in cooperation with the American Booksellers Association and several national organizations sponsor Banned Books Week. The freedom to choose, the power of literature, and the importance of the First Amendment is the essential message of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration by libraries, librarians, and book lovers across the country.
According the Banned Books Week website: “The week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings (and challenges) of books across the United States.”
In 2010, 348 challenges were reported. In the majority of these cases, the books were not banned at their institutions due to the work of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books. The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom does note that for each reported challenge, four or five more remain unreported.
A challenge is defined as “a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”
Challenges fall into a number of categories as defined by the ALA. The top seven of these over the past decade have included:
- sexually explicit material
- offensive language
- unsuited to age group
- violence
- homosexuality
- anti-family
- religious viewpoints
The majority of these challenges were in school classrooms and libraries (67%) while another 24% took place in public libraries.
Advocacy for Banned Books Week extends from the American Library Association’s support and push for Intellectual Freedom for all Americans. Expression and access is the basic premise to the American Library Association’s statement on Intellectual Freedom. A portion of the ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Manual states: “Intellectual freedom implies a circle, and that circle is broken if either freedom of expression or access to ideas is stifled.”
Libraries often adopt and use the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights to help guide them in serving their customers and ensure they serve everyone in their communities equally and fairly. The document reinforces a library user’s right to choose for themselves.
Banned Books Week is also a chance to recognize a reader’s right to defend or oppose what they read, listen to, or view. It is about recognizing the differences among tastes and opinions.
A more lighthearted approach to knowing your rights as a reader was provided by Daniel Pennac in his 1994 book Better than Life. He provided a policy called The Reader’s Bill of Rights, a list of ten items established to recognize the differences among readers and their habits.
He said readers have: 1) The right to not read. 2) The right to skip pages. 3) The right to not finish. 4) The right to reread. 5) The right to read anything. 6) The right to escapism. 7) The right to read anywhere. 8) The right to browse. 9) The right to read out loud. 10) The right to not defend your tastes.
If you are interested in learning more about banned and challenged books, the ALA provides a wealth of information through the “Issues and Advocacy” part of their website (www.ala.org). The library also has several materials that speak about the issues, including Banned Books by Robert P. Doyle and Protecting the Right to Read by Ann K. Symons and Charles Harmon.