Over the years, I’ve published a handful of posts related to Banned Books Week and censorship. I’m back at it again this year to bring attention to this important cause. Banning books silences stories. As a former high school teacher, I witnessed many instances of blatant censorship. For instance, is it acceptable to black out curse words in a book to still be able to use it in the classroom? What is age-appropriate literature and who decides? Banned Books Week is also a celebration of the fact that in most cases challenged books tend to remain available thanks to the efforts of those who stand up for the freedom to read.
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Banned Books Week 2018: Banning Books Silences Stories
If you’re not aware, Banned Books Week happens from September 23rd through September 29th. This week-long affair, promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International, is intended to raise awareness and celebrate our freedom to read. In honor of Banned Books Week, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the top banned books in America and reasons for their controversial ban. Did you know that Judy Blume has had the most books challenged?
Invaluable created an interesting infographic that highlights the top banned books in each genre, plus fun facts and reasons as to why they’re banned. Check it out below and find out why some of the most beloved books in our country have been banned, often times more than once!
You can increase the size of the infographic by hitting CTRL +.
At times, it seems we live in a world where more and more people want to silence anything and everything that offends them. The cliche about not being able to please all of the people all of the time definitely holds true. As a nation, we are becoming more and more divided and listening to each other less and less. Literature has the power to bring people together, but banning books silences stories that need to be heard.
Banning books silences stories in many ways. What controversial books have you read? Have you ever lived in a community where a book was challenged?
If you enjoyed reading this post, you may also like reading What is Age-Appropriate Literature and Should We Ever Ban Books?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2018.
Some books make you scratch your head but I can understand why Satanism in a children’s book might be a bit too much.
Alex, a capable teacher can lead a group of students through a discussion of many topics. I once developed a writing assignment on discovering identity for ninth grade students, but a parent complained I wanted students to compare and contrast their personality with a zodiac description as part of the packet of writing. I was student teaching at the time, and needless to say, my cooperating teaching didn’t want the headache. Based on one parents’ complaint, I was asked to take that part of the assignment out because of supposedly exposing students to the occult. Considering horoscopes are in most papers and magazines and a part of pop culture, I think it’s safe to say my intention was not to dabble in the occult.
This is a great post Jeri. Very informative and beautifully laid out. Thank you.
Kathy, it’s a great eye-catching infographic.
Interesting information. I didn’t know there was a Banned Book Week, or maybe I did and forgot. I’ll definitely have to share regarding this week.
I’ll admit I can’t understand the popularity of one book on the list (saw the movie) because of the story, but hey, that’s me.
What made me the most angry was when Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was changed because it repulsed modern-day readers. Give me a break. I don’t think anyone has a right to change another person’s words.
Denise, at times it seems like nobody can ever agree on why one book is popular or not. Tastes vary widely from reader to reader. Yet, in the case of choosing literature for the classroom, I mostly side with leaving it to professional educators to choose books based on merit rather than letting a vocal parent or two decide for the quiet majority.
Uh… Yeah… The Chocolate War IS a movie. It was released November 1988.
And it was written by ROBERT CORMIER, not Justin Richardson.
That you for pointing that out, Debby.
Usually when we talk about banned books we look at how narrow-minded authorities, often with some conservative religious backing, have banned great works of literature. It’s a tougher issue if you think of what to do about, for example, a book written by Alex Jones, or one that includes blueprints for 3-D printing guns at home. I think I’d still not be supportive of a ban but it’s a harder call with truly offensive stuff.
Ken, you raise a good point as always. One could argue though that such information can be found in a variety of places, so is it okay to ban one book or source of information over another?
I think there’s a fine line here that is crossed over by parents. the school curriculum chooses their literature for solid reasons. In grade eight, we read The Outsiders. I’m sure many parents wanted to see that one gone but it was a highly engaging book. Many on the list of banned books surprised me. Judy Blume’s Are You There God…? Why was this banned. In grade six we passed around that book like it was a chocolate bar. Yet, it was more necessary than that. More like a healthy granola bar that sustained us through early puberty. Interesting infographic, Jeri and thanks for bringing this issue to our attention.
Lisa, I remember reading The Outsiders as well in seventh or eighth grade. It was one of the first books I truly engaged with, even more so when learning how young the author was when she wrote it. I had one parent who refused to let her son read Romeo and Juliet because it was too “smutty.” He was a good reader and readily caught onto all the of the sexual innuendos. Granted, I was teaching in a small farming community. My principal was okay with the student going to sit in a study cubicle and do some alternate assignments that I had to come up with. Thankfully, such things don’t happen often. I’m not sure how I would handle such an incident now with more experience on my side.
Interesting list there. I was just thinking of starting up the Harry Potter series with my daughter as soon as we finish up our current one.
Loni, I’m glad you read so many books with your children. Often parents who complain about books don’t read many books at all. One of my college advisors noted a parent will often complain of a title that is being used but then give the okay for a supplemental title that may be just as “objectionable” only the parent doesn’t know that because they haven’t take the time to fully research the book. I think people get way too excited over what reading material their kids are exposed to. Kids are bombarded with issues on social media and on TV commercials, etc. But yikes, whoa, a book is going to scar them for life!
Oh my gosh – people have tried to ban Blubber by Judy Blume? Really – for what? And I imagine that Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret is banned because there is a reference to a young girl exploring her body. Crazy. It makes me sad when I think of things like this happening. I loved those books growing up. And some of the others listed here.
Erica, people will take offense to most anything in a book. If they squawk loudly and long enough, they often get their way.
Utterly ridiculous! Freedom of speech and freedom to choose what we wish to read should prevail.
I couldn’t agree more, Debby!
I may sound old fashioned Jeri and I am a strong supporter of freedom to choose BUT age appropriate books need to be placed in the hands of children, especially teenagers who are eager to grow up and read adult literature. Curse words in the books give a wrong message to impressionable minds. Though they do get exposed to all such words through their peer group but giving access to books that contain sexual content, drugs, violence, occult and racism too early is similar to giving guns to irresponsible and immature adolescents.
Balroop, I have to disagree. When picking a book to be read by an entire class, it can be trickier to decide what is age-appropriate. I’ve witnessed a school district take issue with The Grapes of Wrath and only allow it to be used if all of the “damns” were blacked out. I don’t think most people would consider such a classic inapprpriate for the classroom, but all books are suspect to coming under attack. That’s why it’s so hard to decide what is and is not appropriate. A more controversial examples would be Alexie’s Part-Time Indian YA novel.
Okay, I just noticed my comment didn’t show up.
I didn’t realize there was a week dedicated to Banned Books. I’ll definitely have to follow up with this on my blog.
Some of the reasons to banned books surprises me, especially when I see one popular book on the list (saw the movie) embraced by so many, yet I don’t care for the story at all.
Denise, your first comment did show up!
My first sense is always to be outraged at the very notion of anyone telling me what I can/cannot read.
But, I am all for categorizing books by content. We do it with movies, so why not books? I love mysteries and police procedurals, but I don’t want excessive cursing, gore, and zippo on sex (give me fade to black anytime). And there was that time I bought a book for my mom because the title sounded like fun, but good heavens, it was so smutty she couldn’t finish it–and laughed mercilessly at how stricken I was to have made that error!
For kids? I love when books have the “age 7+” on them. As an aunt and now a great aunt, gifts are always my gift of choice, but I never know what a kid any age can read, so those little numbers sure help me out!
I, too, am very surprised by a number of books on this list. I’ll think I’ll get to the library and grab a bunch of them to read!
RoseMary, the ALA offers lots of guidance when it comes to labeling the content of books. Here is an excerpt from one of their pages: Is it prejudicial to describe violent and sexual content? For example, would including “contains mild violence” on bibliographic record of a graphic novel violate the Library Bill of Rights? Yes. In any community there will be a range of attitudes as to what is deemed offensive and contrary to moral values. For some the issue is sexually explicit content, for others the concern is with violence, for still others it is language. Including notes in the bibliographic record regarding what may be objectionable content assumes all members of the community hold the same values. No one person should take responsibility for judging what is offensive. Such voluntary labeling in bibliographic records and catalogs violates the Library Bill of Rights.
I was one of those conservative nuts who blacked out all the swear words in a book so I could use it in the classroom. I had just enough copies of Chris Crutcher’s very relevant book, Whale Talk, for each student as well as previously prepared supplemental material. I knew it would be a good fit for my English class but was also fairly certain the varied and creative language therein wouldn’t fly with the small Christian school’s administer.
In my defense, I was working two jobs at the time and raising four children on my own. Wanton censorship or not, I couldn’t afford to get fired. FYI, my seventh grader helped me with the bold black Sharpie task and enjoyed the book thoroughly. Might be that accounts for her colorful blush-worthy language of today. Would you agree, Jeri?
CC, I think that daughter of yours has many influences in the cursing department 😉
I forgot all about The Chocolate War until I saw its cover here. Wow, I remember reading that. Thanks for carrying on with the posts each year about banned books, Jeri. It’s an important cause!
Christy, thanks so much. Banned Books Weeks is definitely one of my champion causes!
Something about seeing these books on this list makes me want to go out and read each one of them to see what all the fuss is about! That’s probably not what the censors were going for…
Meredith, it may not be what the censors or going for, but raising a fuss about a book is generally best way to pique one’s interest.
Canada has a similar event called Freedom to Read week. It is held at the end of February. It is interesting to learn what has been behind banning of certain books through the years. Often it is one person or group of people pushing their point of view/politics/religion. Sometimes the reasons seem silly. I personally do not like to read books with a lot of profanity or gore but I don’t think they should be banned and I’d make exceptions for a compelling story. I think children generally need to be steered toward age-appropriate books (both in reading level and content), but that doesn’t mean avoiding controversial topics or not covering different perspectives. I agree with your comment that a good teacher can lead children through a discussion of a variety of topics. I also feel that it is part of a parent’s role to help a child develop critical thinking skills that can be applied to what they read.
Donna, well said. In some communities, promoting critical thinking can be a dicey area given the influence of various religions, but I don’t want to tread those waters here!