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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

September 23-29 is banned books week

by Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian & College Archivist

      Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. 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.
      Every year hundreds of requests are made to remove books from library shelves because the content is considered objectionable.  Over the years, the list of challenged or banned  books has included titles such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; Carrie, by Stephen King; Judy Blume’s Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell; Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, and Little Red Riding Hood.
      Objections to books are typically made because someone judges the content inappropriate on social, political or religious grounds, or because it is sexually explicit. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list every year of the top 10 most frequently challenged books.  They have also compiled lists of the top 100 most frequently challenged and banned books for the decades of the 1990s and the 2000s.  Number 69 on the list for the 2000s is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, a book that is itself about censorship and the banning and burning of books.  Originally published in 1953, the publisher, Ballentine Books, marketed two different versions of the book – the “adult” (i.e. original) version and an expurgated version that was sent to schools.  In 1973 it stopped selling the adult version, but continued to publish the edited version in which over 75 passages were changed; offensive words such as ‘hell,’ ‘damn,’ and ‘abortion’ had been removed.  The publisher withdrew the edited version in 1980 after Bradbury discovered what they had done (Sova, Dawn B. Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds. New York: Facts on File, 2006).
      One of the most censored books in America is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and the list of reasons is quite long: obscenity, vulgar language, violence, inappropriateness, ungodliness, immoral subject matter, cruelty, and an unpatriotic portrayal of war.  It has been the subject of several lawsuits as well: in Michigan, Todd v. Rochester Community Schools (1972), circuit Judge Arthur C. Moore told a high school to ban the book for violating separation of church and state.  The Michigan Appellate court overturned this decision.  It was one of the books mentioned in Pico v. Board of Education, the first school censorship case to make it to the Supreme Court.  The court ruled that “[l]ocal school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books …” (Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982)) 
      There are many court cases surrounding the right to read; one of the more recent ones is from 2003, Counts v. Cedarville School District (295 F. Supp. 2d 996).  The suit was filed in reaction to the school district requiring students to obtain written permission from their parents in order to have access to the Harry Potter books.  The Court overturned the board’s decision.  In 2000, the court ruled in Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, Texas (121 F. Supp. 2d 530) that a city resolution to remove Heather has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate from the children’s section of the library was discriminatory.
     Of the 416 books that were challenged or banned in 2017, the top 10 most challenged are:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
    This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
    This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  8. 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 useprofanity, and offensive language.*This book was removed from all school libraries in Katy ISD until a 15 year old student collection 3,700 signatures on a petition, spoke at a school board meeting, and started a book club about the YA novel*
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Click here for more information on Banned Books Week.