September 27th – October 3rd is Banned Books Week. This year’s theme is “Censorship Is a Dead End. Find Your Freedom To Read”, definitely a theme that we as librarians can get behind!
Banned Books Week began in the early 1980’s, after the landmark Supreme Court case Island Trees School District v. Pico in 1982, which ruled that school officials couldn’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content. That same year, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) placed a banned books display at the entrance of their annual bookseller’s convention, sparking the idea for an annual Banned Books Week. Today, the American Library Association (ALA) is part of a coalition that promotes and supports Banned Books Week. In fact, the Banned Books page is one of the top two most popular pages on the ALA website: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks
Unfortunately, books are still regularly challenged and banned. 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”. Why might a book be challenged? The reasons are endless, but range from simple things like language to more complex arguments over racial, religious, and sexual themes.
Many of the classics that we all remember reading in high school English class have been through the challenge process. This includes titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
More recent titles might surprise you – books like The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, and the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, have all been challenged at some point.
Banned Books Week celebrates that, although challenged, the majority of these books remain available across the country. It also promotes awareness of censorship issues and highlights the efforts of libraries, bookstores, teachers, and community members who speak out for readers everywhere.
So, when thinking about your next book, consider picking up a banned book and celebrate your freedom to read!