Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week in September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting attempted banning’s of books in the United States.

Each year the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the most frequently challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship in our libraries and schools.  Over the past ten years, American libraries were faced with over 5,000 challenges.

A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.  It is the attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or a group.  A banning is the actual removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather they are an attempt to remove materials from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

Most book challengers are met with the best of intentions.  Challengers want to protect others, frequently children, from what they perceive as difficult ideas and information.  Parents are responsible for the majority of recorded challenges.  Although these motives are commendable, the point is that while it is perfectly reasonable to restrict what they themselves or their children read, they should not try to restrict others from making their own choices.

Our library, like so many others throughout the country, will feature books that have been targets of censorship, but we want to encourage everyone who reads this column to continue this observance by exercising your right to read any title that you choose, now, next week, and every week throughout the year. Below are a few popular and often challenged books.

The Diary of Anne Frank is probably a title you read during your time in school. It’s on many required reading lists and gives a personal perspective into the lives and horrors faced by Jewish families during the Holocaust. It’s also one of the most commonly challenged books for themes of body exploration. However, the Alabama State Textbook Committee challenged the book based solely on the fact that, in their words, it’s “a real downer”.

The Harry Potter series is challenged frequently and has been removed from some libraries. The books are often challenged, but according to one school in Nashville, TN, “the books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells, which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits”.  The school removed the book series from its shelves.

The popular children’s book The Lorax by Dr. Seuss was banned in California schools several years ago after a challenge by the logging community. They believed the book “portrayed logging in a poor light and would turn children against the foresting industry”.

After its publication in 1963, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are faced many opponents. Readers believed the title was psychologically damaging and traumatizing to young children. The book was largely banned throughout the South. It has also been challenged in many regions for its images of witchcraft and supernatural elements.

In 2019, the Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 377 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services with a total of 566 books being targeted. The reasons for these challenges vary, and while all the challengers have good intentions, it’s up to you to choose what you read!

Take a moment during this month to find your freedom to read. According to the ALA, “by staying updated about attempts to limit your First Amendment rights, you can break down barriers and overcome obstacles to access more information.” Do you know one of the best places to celebrate your right to read? The Dorothy Bramlage Public Library!     

Five of the Most Challenged Books

• I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

• The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

• The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

• Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey

• George by Alex Gino

DONNA PORTER  is the Assistant Director at the Dorothy Bramlage Public Library.

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