Banned Books Week - Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Recently, a fellow writer posted about a new banned book list on Twitter. I know it isn’t how I’m supposed to approach a banned books list, because banning is dreadful. It keeps books out of the hands of young readers who may benefit from that book. 

To be clear, telling the teacher that your child is not going to read whatever-book-she-has-chosen, is not book banning. Good or bad, it is parenting. And who knows? Maybe your child isn’t ready for that book. Telling the teacher, principal, school board, or library that access to that same book should be restricted or eliminated is banning. 

Books get banned for many reasons. Charlotte’s Web has been banned because talking animals are unnatural and giving animals speech puts them on the same level as human beings. The Lorax, my favorite Dr. Seuss book, has been banned because it is anti-logging and it is against deforesting. Books banners get into some serious irony although I’m never sure they recognize it. My son’s favorite banned book, Fahrenheit 451, has been banned because it portrays a society that burns books. 

As much as I loathe book banning, there are cases that make me cringe. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been banned not only for profanity and sexual references, but also for sexual allegations against the author Sherman Alexie. Talk about a liberal nightmare. Do you vote #MeToo and block student access to the book, thus letting Alexie know that you think of his actions? Or do you vote anti-ban and anti-censorship?

One of the problems with book banning is that bans target certain types of books more than others. Books that portray LGBTQ characters are more likely to get banned. Books about African-American characters are often targeted especially if the books are critical of police culture or the books are pro Black Lives Matter. Books about Muslim cultures are also targets of banning. But older books also get banned because of the racism that they depict. 

For some idea of what books have recently been targeted, the 10 most often banned books of 2020 (with the ones I've read highlighted) are: 
George by Alex Gino 
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds 
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely 
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson 
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin 
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck 
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

If this is your first time reading about Banned Book Week, you might want to head over to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) where they compile and post lists of challenged books. The OIF gathers information on these books three ways – collecting information from media reports and also using information submitted by librarians and teachers across the US.


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on October 4, 2021).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 4, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 4, 2021). 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--One of my favorite books on the banned book list is Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Some writer-teacher friends recently got together to talk about banned books, and about what is happening these days: parents in some mostly-white districts are making sure that books that focus on people of color are not allowed to be used as part of the curriculum as well as not allowed in the school libraries. Librarians are not ordering certain books, because they know they'll have to deal with very vocal and energetic parents.

It's a shame. If you don't care for a book, don't read it. If you don't want your child to read a book, speak to the teacher and the teacher (I imagine) will arrange for them to read another book. Don't try to speak for anyone else by banning a book.

Renee Roberson said...

I've never understood book banning. I've read plenty of books that I didn't like or agree with, but I would never go to our school and demand they be taken off the curriculum! Mia was confused when a graphic novel they had in their fifth-grade classroom suddenly got yanked off the shelf ("Drama" by Raina Telgemeier). Lo and behold, it had LGBTQ+ characters and some parents were outraged. How else are we going to learn about other cultural identities and perspectives if we don't branch out and explore? I guess the only way I could get behind something being banned was if it was a clear case of plagiarism. Thanks for sharing these lists!

Cathy C. Hall said...

A very thoughtful discussion of book banning, Sue.

I've been disturbed lately about the many books being removed because of varied issues about their authors. Seems to go against what the industry has supported so vehemently in prior years. Makes it hard for me to get behind Banned Books Week this time around. As my mom used to say, "What is the world coming to?"

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

It is a shame when parents keep their children from getting a diverse education.

Yes, plagiarism is another matter altogether.

My mom always said that it's only freedom of speech if everyone gets it.

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