Banned Books Week: September 26–October 2

Banned Books of 2020 Video

Books unite us. They reach across boundaries and build connections between readers. Censorship, on the other hand, divides us and creates barriers.

One of our most important goals here at the Library is to provide free and equitable access to information and resources. Among the many implications of that word––access––is the notion of freedom: you are free to read, watch, play, or listen to whatever interests you.

For nearly 40 years, the American Library Association and other organizations who are committed to preserving the tenet of intellectual freedom have promoted Banned Books Week in late September. Libraries around the world celebrate this annual event by hosting author visits and book talks, special programs and book displays, and other initiatives to promote awareness of the many literary works that are routinely challenged and censored.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020. 50% of challenges were initiated by parents, and 20% by patrons, with 43% taking place at public libraries, 38% at schools, and 15% at school libraries.

 

Of the 273 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:

  • George by Alex Gino: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds: Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
  • Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “White savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message

 

“There are so many challenged or banned works out there, that it’s difficult to recommend just one––and, to be sure, not all challenged titles are created equal (there’s just as much junk as there is gold),” said Grier Carson, Associate Director of the Library. “In considering the philosophical impetus behind Banned Books Week, it’s hard to improve on Anthony Burgess’s masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange. Published in 1962, and later made infamous by Stanley Kubrick’s equally masterful cinematic production (it too was banned for decades after its release), the book questions our assumptions about intellectual freedom by pitting the criminal mindset of its anti-hero against the utopian idealism of behavioral modification techniques. The novel asks the central question, is it worth surrendering the individual mind to the greater good? What I love about this book, and, by extension, Banned Books Week itself, is that it poses questions about intellectual freedom in absolute terms.” 

This week and beyond, we encourage you to check out something that challenges your own thinking on a particular subject, where it’s one of our staff recommendations for adults or one for teens. Whether it changes your mind or simply expands it, you’ll find that the freedom to access information and resources is akin to the freedom to think for yourself.

Try our Banned Books Week word search!