It’s baaaack! We have once again reached that most hallowed of annual celebrations: Banned Books Week! Banned Book Week was started by the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association to raise awareness both in the United States and internationally about threats to free speech. It is usually held during the last week of September every year, and is scheduled to take place this year during the week of September 22nd-28th.
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. Even though books continue to be banned each year, part of the celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, many of the books have remained available. (In fact, many of them are right here at your library waiting for you!)
Below is a partial list of books highlighted by the American Library Association last year in their timeline of challenged and banned books:
Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut
In 1976 the Island Trees (NY) School Board removed the book because it was “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.”
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
In 1983, four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the rejection of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, claiming the work preaches “bitterness and hatred toward white people and encourages deviant behavior because of references to lesbianism, premarital sex and profanity.”
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
In 1984, The Color Purple was challenged as appropriate reading for Oakland, CA high school honors classes due to the work’s “sexual and social explicitness” and its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.” After nine months of negotiations and delays, a divided Oakland Board of Education gave formal approval for the book’s use.
In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
In 1985, In the Night Kitchen was challenged at the Cunningham Elementary School in Beloit, WI because the book was believed to desensitize children to nudity.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Paterson’s novel for young people was challenged in 1986 as recommended reading for 6th grade students in the Lincoln, NE schools. Parents objected to the book’s “profanity” including the phrase “Oh, Lord” and the use of “Lord” as an expletive.
Forever by Judy Blume
In 1987, Forever was challenged at the Moreno Valley, CA Unified School District libraries for “profanity, sexual situations, and themes that allegedly encourage disrespectful behavior.” It was challenged in the same year at the Marshwood Junior High School classroom library in Eliot, ME because the book “does not paint a responsible role of parents” and because the “pornographic sexual exploits (in the book) are unsuitable for junior high school role models.”
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
In 1988, The Chocolate War was challenged by a middle school principal in West Hernando, FL, who recommended the novel be removed from the school library shelves for being “inappropriate.”
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The Satanic Verses sparked worldwide controversy for its religious content and alleged blasphemy. The novel was banned in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Qatar, Indonesia, South Africa, and India in 1989 because of its criticism of Islam. Sales of the book were restricted or criminalized in Venezuela, Japan, Bulgaria, and Poland. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa or religious edict, stating, “I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of ‘The Satanic Verses,’ which is against Islam, the prophet, and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, have been sentenced to death.” In the U.S., the novel was also challenged at the Wichita, KS Public Library in 1989 as “blasphemous to the prophet Mohammed.”
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
In 1990, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was challenged in the Livonia, MI schools because the poems were thought to frighten first grade children.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men was the target of numerous complaints in 1991. The novella was challenged as curriculum material at the Ringgold High School in Carroll Township, PA because it contains terminology offensive to blacks. It was deemed “indecent,” removed, and later returned to the Suwannee, FL High School library. At the Jacksboro, TN High School, it was challenged for containing “blasphemous” language, excessive cursing, and sexual overtones. The book was also challenged as required reading in the Buckingham County, VA schools that year because of profanity.
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
In 1993, Go Ask Alice was removed from the Wall Township, NJ Intermediate School library by the Superintendent of Schools because the book contains “inappropriate” language and “borders on pornography.” Responding to an anonymous letter, the superintendent ordered the book removed from all reading lists and classroom book collections.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
In 1995, the book was challenged in Moss Point, MS and at the Santa Cruz, CA Schools because of its racial themes. It was removed from the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, LA that same year because its language and content were found objectionable.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
In May 1996, a class action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, alleging that the district deprived minority students of educational opportunities by requiring racially offensive literature as part of class assignments. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, stating he realized that “language in the novel was offensive and hurtful to the plaintiff,” but that the suit failed to prove the district violated students’ civil rights.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
In 2001, Catcher in the Rye was removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in Summerville, SC who believed it to be “a filthy, filthy book.” The same year, it was challenged by a Glynn County, GA school board member because of profanity, but was retained.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
In 2003, The Giver was challenged as suggested reading for eighth-grade students in Blue Springs, MO, where parents called the book “lewd” and “twisted” and pleaded for it to be tossed out of the district. The book was reviewed by two committees and recommended for retention, but the controversy continued for more than two years.
It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris
In 2005, this book was challenged but retained at the Holt Middle School parent library in Fayetteville, AR, despite a parent’s complaint that it was sexually explicit.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
In 2009, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was challenged on the Wyoming, OH high school district’s suggested reading list and restricted to juniors and seniors at the William Byrd and Hidden Valley high schools in Roanoke, VA. It was also challenged at the West Bend, WI Community Memorial Library as being “obscene or child pornography.” The library board ultimately voted to retain the book, “without removing, relocating, labeling, or otherwise restricting access.”
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
In 2011, the Richland (WA) School Board voted to prohibit The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for all grades, though the initial complaint came in regard to its use for ninth-grade English classes. The following month, after public outcry and after board members and district committee members read the novel, the book was declared to be “outstanding” and the decision to ban it was reversed.
All of these books are just the tip of the iceberg! Check out the ALA’s website for lists of all of the books that have been challenged or banned in the past, or go to the Banned Books Week website for information, videos, and resources. After that, come in and borrow a banned book from us and do your part to challenge censorship!