Happy Banned Books Week!


When I worked in the middle school library, I loved matching books to readers.  There’s nothing quite like seeing a student come running in, eyes shining, having finished the first book in a series and desperate for the next one.  One year my eighth grade girls had discovered Holly Black’s Modern Faerie tales, Tithe, Valiant and Ironside.  I’d just suggested to my supervisor that we should buy extra copies, because the books were going over so well, when a sixth grade boy checked out Valiant, then complained to his guidance counselor about some adult language contained therein.   And the real fun started.  The counselor insisted the book be removed, the media specialist pulled it off the shelf to “consider” it, I pitched a fit that the book should be put right back into the collection.  They were dark days in the library, let me tell you. 

There are books that make you happy and books that make you cry.  A well-constructed story can revolve around deep philosophical concepts or be as light as cotton candy.  We writers have stories inside us that we’re dying to share with readers.  We put our hearts and thoughts into words for anyone to experience, and we’re okay if one person reads it or if one thousand do.  The one thing we don’t want to happen is for no one to read our stories.  But there are people in the world who”ve decided it’s their right and responsibility to remove books that make them personally uncomfortable from the library shelves, keeping everyone from ever seeing the work writers slaved to achieve.  For this reason, in 1982, the American Library Association launched National Banned Books Week, to keep challenged books from being removed and lost.   

The 10 most challenged titles of 2011 were:

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle 
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism

I haven’t read all of them, myself.  At least two of those titles are considered classics, yet someone, somewhere, thinks people should not be allowed to read them because the subject makes someone uncomfortable.  I think being uncomfortable isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It might be what wakes up a brilliant idea in a future writer or teacher or scientist.  So let’s protect our right to read anything we choose.  Go to the library and check out a banned book.  Click over to the Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out channel on Youtube.  Fight a challenge if you hear about it in your child’s school or your local library.  Celebrate your freedom to read!



14 comments to Happy Banned Books Week!

  • The Mathelete

    Woot for librarians everywhere! When I was a *much* younger man, I used to sneak from the children’s sections into the adult (no, not THAT kind of adult, thank you) sections, and Thank God/Goddess/Flying Spaghetti Monster/Whatever Saint Patrons Librarians for the so many librarians who turned a blind eye to the ten year old wandering into the adult fiction section, picking a book probably highly inappropriate for him, and then checking it out with careful clandestine skill in a stack of Hardy Boys. Where I lived as a child (deep in the Bible Belt of the Southern US), the children’s books were on a different floor than the adult ones, and signs were posted all over the place that no one under 13 was allowed in the adult section without a parent. I’d be a much less intellectually fulfilled adult without my secret trips to the upstairs library.

    To this day, 30 year old, graduate degree bearing, Mathelete still makes a point of thanking his librarians for their constant protection of free speech and free thought. Maybe everyone reading should consider doing the same in honor of Banned Books Week? And maybe checking out a copy of Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn, or any of the other fantastic books that offended someone somewhere along the way…

  • Rhonda

    Some of those reasons are ridiculous.

    “Unsuited to age group”? I think the people making those claims have no idea what kids of whatever target age group the book is written for are capable of understanding.

    “Religious viewpoint”? I assume that means “[doesn’t agree with my] religious viewpoint”.

    Also, Brave New World as sexually explicit: correct, but that has to be the least titillating explicit sexual language I’ve ever read in a novel. 🙂

    “Racism” is interesting – I haven’t read all these books but I’ve seen that charge applied to books that mention race, to books that show characters who are racist but do not portray that positively (didn’t To Kill a Mockingbird have quite a strong anti-racism message? It’s been years since I read it), and to books written in or about a time when racism was so ingrained to have the characters NOT act in ways we now consider racist would be just outright wrong.

    Anybody here read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”? Famously banned for racism many times over. I realized when I was an adult that my parents had, and had always had, a tattered copy on the shelf. I think I ignored it as a child because it had a drab cover. So I picked it up (carefully) a few years ago and read it. I found it a sad and beautiful story, written and set in a time when racism saturated society.

  • […] Note: This is Banned Books Week, something you’ve probably seen floating around the net. Magical Words even had a post from Misty Massey, Happy Banned Books Week! […]

  • When we remove from shelves those things that make us think, we remove the ability to think for ourselves.

  • Ken

    Yay for Librarians!!!

    Boo for people trying to dictate what is appropriate for everyone else.

    I agree with you Misty, uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing. I think that if you’re doing any kind of reading at all, you run the “Risk” of being uncomfortable at times. Stories are great and wonderful and terrible and powerful and they have the capacity to change your life.

    You’re not being honest with yourself if you think that you can immerse yourself in them and come out the other side completely unaltered.

  • I’m not a fan of banning books. If a person thinks a book is inappropriate for his or her child, then they can work to make sure the child reads it. (Or, more successfully, assign it as homework, insuring the child won’t touch it).

    Funny, I’ve never seen anyone try to ban a book for aethstetic reasons. “Don’t read this because it is badly written, with ugly prose and flat, uninteresting characters. Such tedium could damage a child’s ability to love books for years, nay, decades to come!”

    I read lots of books when I was a kid that, in all honesty, I probably shouldn’t have been reading. There is one rape scene in a book that I still remember. I remember neither the author nor the full title, though I think it had “fairy” in it, which is why I grabbed it probably. I just pulled the book off the shelf at home when I was maybe 12 and read it. I think I might have been better off not reading it for a few more years. It wasn’t a bad book, or an earth-shatteringly good one either, or I’d probably remember more about it, but that rape scene–yikes! And it wasn’t an excessive scene, looking back on it now, just enough to disturb and really upset me at that age. But, on the other hand, I’m very happy my parents let me read what I wanted to read and encouraged reading.

  • One of the most offensive things about these bans is what Rhonda mentioned – that the books aren’t banned because they espouse evil, but just because they mention it existing. The idea that it’s okay to raise kids to think the world is a fluffy, cozy place with no problems to be addressed is delusional at best and absolutely dangerous to the children (and the rest of us) at worst. I always like Lewis’s defense of fairy tales that they are good not because they tell us dragons are real, but that they tell us dragons can be defeated. We can teach kids about pain and evil in ways that gives them hope rather than destroying it.

  • One of the most offensive things about these bans is what Rhonda mentioned – that the books aren’t banned because they espouse evil, but just because they mention it existing.


  • ajp88

    I look forward to having my books banned.

  • Razziecat

    Banning books is about fear. Fear that one’s own values and beliefs aren’t good enough, aren’t strong enough, to stand up to analysis or criticism or ridicule. It’s about the fear that if challenged, those beliefs and values will collapse, and something else–something strange, something dangerous–will take their place, and then the world will change. And humans fear change.

  • A. R. Gideon

    Occult/Satanic? They can pull books for that?

  • sagablessed

    I am in the group with ajp88: I HOPE mine is banned. Think of the free publicity! 😀

  • Cindy

    I have read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” and yes they had an anti racism message. But, they are also products of their time and quite patronizing toward blacks. I don’t believe that was intentional on the authors part.
    I was lucky that my parents let me read whatever I wanted and the public library let kids check out adult books if their parents gave permission. If I were a teenager the first books I would be hunting up would be banned books.