While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.
(From the American Library Association)
History of Banned Books Week
From the American Libraries Magazine article 50 Years of Intellectual Freedom:
Banned Books Week was launched in the 1980s, a time of increased challenges, organized protests, and the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content.
Banned books were showcased at the 1982 American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California. At the entrance to the convention center towered large, padlocked metal cages, with some 500 challenged books stacked inside and a large overhead sign cautioning that some people considered these books dangerous.
Drawing on the success of the exhibit, ABA invited Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) Director Judith Krug to join a new initiative called Banned Books Week, along with the National Association of College Stores. The three organizations scrambled to put something together by the September show date and ended up distributing a news release and a publicity kit, hoping that with their combined membership of 50,000 people, they could continue to spark a conversation about banned books.
The initiative took off. Institutions and stores hosted read-outs, and window displays morphed into literary graveyards or mysterious collections of brown-bagged books. Major news outlets such as PBS and the New York Times covered the event, and mayors and governors issued proclamations affirming the week.
The American Library Association (ALA) is currently part of a national coalition to promote Banned Books Week, along with 14 other contributors and sponsors. Krug led the Banned Books Week efforts as OIF director until her unexpected death in 2009. Her legacy lives on in the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund, a grant awarded to nonprofits to host Banned Books Week events.
Book Challenges Today
Books are still being banned and challenged today. A “challenge” is an attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or group. A “banning” is the removal of those materials. Below is the list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books in 2019.
Here are the stated reasons each of these books was challenged or banned. We encourage you to think about why each of these has been considered a threat, and what might be gained by reading it.
1. George by Alex Gino
Challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
2. Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss
Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate”
5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack
Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint.
6. I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel
Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
8. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
9. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
The whole series has been banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
And 10. Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content
As you can see, eight out of the ten titles were challenged because they included LGBTQIA characters or education about sexuality and gender. To learn more about challenged books from previous years, you can look at the most frequently challenged titles by year and see the reasons why the title generated controversy.
Writing and research: Linda
Editing and formatting: Ana