When you think of book banning, you might imagine that it happened decades ago in little rural towns. Like when dancing was banned in Footloose! Gosh, that sort of thing would never happen today, right? Actually, book banning is alive and well in the United States, folks, and it happens every single year.
The American Library Association defines a banned or challenged book as follows: “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. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.”
I’m a public librarian, and one of the most precious things about our public library system is access to all materials. One person, or even a group of people, doesn’t have the right to remove a book just because they find it offensive. Imagine yourself entering a library that only contained materials that nobody else thought were objectionable. Look around you, there are only empty shelves. Another person or group of people decided what was fit for you to read. This library is not only empty of books on sex, drug use, LGBT, and dozens of other “controversial” topics, but someone didn’t approve of books that had murder in them – that eliminated a whole genre – another person removed books containing sex before marriage –most of the Romance section – someone else didn’t approve of home childbirth, another didn’t like Eastern spirituality, yet another was offended by people who are Republicans.
The American Library Association has an excellent website with information on banned and challenged books including lists of the most challenged books each year. Just for fun, here are some books that you might be surprised have been challenged or banned:
Hop on Pop, Dr. Seuss
Bridge to Terabithia, Katharine Paterson
Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey
Harry Potter (series), J.K. Rowling
Where’s Waldo, Martin Handford
James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle
A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein
Personally, I can’t imagine not getting caught reading A Wrinkle in Time past my bedtime, or sobbing my fool eyes out with Bridge to Terabithia, or seeing what hilarious prank the kids in Captain Underpants are up to as I read to my young boys. My sense of humor wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for all the Shel Silverstein poems I read growing up. I enjoyed POETRY that was funny and absurd and delightful and sweet. If you read a classic novel in high school, you’ve read a book that was most likely challenged or banned somewhere.
So this week, celebrate your freedom to read! Go pick out a banned book and read it, you rebel, you.