Banned Books and the Freedom to Read

Banned Books Week is coming to an end. The week long event celebrating our right to read started this past Sunday, September 24th, and runs through tomorrow, the 30th. The event looks to educate the public about book censorship and advocate against the practice.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 due to an influx of books being banned across the country. The coalition behind the event is composed of many organizations throughout the country that support the freedom to read.

Historically, books have been banned for a number of reasons. Religious organizations ban books they deem inappropriate (the Roman Catholic Church had a list of prohibited books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, that was abolished in 1966), many of Shakespeare’s creations were banned or censured for a variety of reasons (on the whim of a reigning monarch, due to immodesty, in deference to a crazy king, etc.), and scientific books are often banned and censured (many of Galileo’s works were destroyed, Darwin’s Origin of the Species faced extreme censorship,  and works by Albert Einstein were burned in Nazi Germany).

While books are often challenged or banned with the best of intentions — groups or individuals challenging books in an effort to protect children from difficult concepts or ideas, for example — censorship promotes the idea that some stories are not to be told (including those from LGBT, person-of-color, and other minority authors). Our right to read includes the stories that differ from our own. Or stories that challenge our perceptions of the world.

It’s easy to assume that book-censorship is a thing of the past, but it’s happening all around us. You can take a look at this map to see what books have been reported as banned or challenged in your area. Or take a look at frequently challenged books reported by the American Library Association here. Below, you can find a list of books challenged in 2016.

The Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016 are: (pulled from the Banned Books Week website)

  1. This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
    Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes
  2. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint
  3. George written by Alex Gino
    Reasons: challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”
  4. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    Reasons: challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints
  5. Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan
    Reasons: challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content
  6. Looking for Alaska written by John Green
    Reasons: challenged for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation”
  7. Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
    Reason: challenged because it was considered sexually explicit
  8. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk
    Reasons: challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive”
  9. Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
    Reason: challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author
  10. Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell
    Reason: challenged for offensive language

Any bookworm knows the power stories have to transport us to different worlds, teach us about foreign cultures, or introduce us to a character living a life different from our own. The magical power of books is hindered with banning and censorship.

The world is an imperfect place. But with the help of books, maybe we’ll find a solution to a world-wide problem or learn to connect with a different culture. One thing I can say for certain, the world is a better place with books in it.

Keep reading,



Article Resources:

Banned Books Week

Freedom to Read

American Library Association


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