Happy Banned Books Week!
For the last 40 years, the American Library Association (ALA) has annually brought attention to books that are frequently banned or challenged for content, often by people who haven’t even read them.
I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, and I forgot about Banned Books Week until yesterday, when I went to the local library to work on Book 3 of the Tuner Trilogy. My hamstring is acting up—sitting in my customary chair wasn’t happening, and I noticed their display on the way out.
No one but me seems to like this chair. Probably because it’s right in the middle under a light and made out of the kind of vinyl you don’t ever want to sit on in shorts.
Photo: Elizabeth West
I was reluctant to get a library card here for a couple of reasons. First, things have been so stressful, especially in the last two years, that it’s been hard to read anything at all.
Second, in most public library systems, you must be a resident of the county to get a free card. Having one in a place I don’t plan on staying felt like giving up—and I didn’t feel like reading anyway. But several intriguing political books have come out recently from writers I follow (in particular, Sarah Kendzior and David Corn), so I got one.
Librarians, particularly children’s librarians, are specially trained to choose appropriate books for collections. They are not your child’s parents. As with TV and movies, it’s up to you to decide what you want your child to read—but you don’t have the right to keep other people from reading it.
Here are a few works that often find themselves on the receiving end of a challenge. I haven’t read a lot of the newer books on the ALA’s lists, though I enjoy children’s and young adult literature. Some of these are old and some are recent. I’ve linked to publisher websites, but I encourage you to support your local indie bookstores if you want to buy copies.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
I’m always going to list this one because I love it. A Newbery Award winner, this book is part of a series about the Logans, a Black family living in the Jim Crow South. You can guess why it always gets challenged. There are a couple in the series I don’t have, and boy, am I excited about getting them.
Taylor’s books are full of heart and eye-opening. You will feel the injustice in your bones, even as you fall in love with Cassie and her loving, steadfast family. The author gave Oprah Magazine a rare interview in 2020.
Forever by Judy Blume
I grew up reading Judy Blume, as I’m sure others reading this post did too. I mentioned this book in a Twitter thread about how keeping reading material away from high school kids almost guarantees they’ll read it—there’s nothing sweeter than forbidden fruit! This book about teenagers’ first sexual experiences (a thing you are not going to keep teenagers from discussing) is frequently challenged. Juno Dawson talks about the book in this article for the Guardian, published in 2015 before she transitioned.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
This 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning book about a formerly enslaved woman haunted by the ghost of her dead baby became a contested movie starring Oprah Winfrey, Thandiwe Newton, and Danny Glover. I can’t even describe how unforgettable this book is; you should read it for yourself. Morrison, who sadly passed away in 2019, received many honors during her illustrious career, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Yep, your favorite 2012 tearjerker was banned by a middle school in Riverside, California! It was later unbanned, mostly because of a strong letter from The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), which apparently caused someone in the school district to come to their senses.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This highly honored 2017 debut YA book was challenged for promoting an anti-police message and pushing a social agenda, as well as language and adult situations. I own a copy but I haven’t read it yet. The furor surrounding it ensures that I will.
This is only a small taste of the books targeted by increasingly emboldened and organized groups who seem intent on forcing the rest of us to adopt their restrictive views. You might think this is only about fiction, but the sharp reduction in local journalism and attacks on journalists keeps people from being informed when issues arise in their communities. Restricting information is dangerous.
Fight the bans by reading as many challenged books as you can. Read them in public, discuss them in your book group, and talk about them with your friends, family, and children. If you still have a local paper, subscribe! Ask your local library to do the same, and support them as much as you can. Let them know you want information kept available to everyone. By stepping up and speaking out, together we can ensure our freedom to read.
This post contains a persuasive argument against calling attention to the complaints: How to Fight Book Bans and Challenges