Speak Loudly: Banned Books Week 2016

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Every year during the last week in September, Banned Books Week provides readers with an excellent reminder of the importance of being able to have choice in their reading material. This is a freedom that should not be dismissed or taken lightly. The week of celebration is a partnership of book publishers, sellers, and advocates of intellectual freedom, including teachers and librarians. This year, various workshops, displays, and book discussions on censorship took place across the country at bookstores, libraries, and other venues from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1.

Although I usually write a column prior to the event reminding readers to read a book that has been frequently challenged during the past year and has been listed on the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Book List, this year I decided to postpone my missive until after the week had passed as a palpable reminder that books are challenged throughout the year, and as proponents of intellectual freedom, we need to be familiar with them and provide reasons for sharing them with others and cling to the importance of free and open access to information. It is always worth noting that while just about every book published is sure to offend someone, no individual or group should have the power to decide what others may not read. The top ten most challenged books of 2015 were:

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

Most of these books are no strangers to the list of challenged books, and their authors are familiar with having their books come under fire from those who would deny others the right to read them. As Banned Books Week for 2016 fades along with the fiery temperatures of summer, do yourself a favor and read one of these books to see what you think or to understand the controversy that sometimes swirls around these titles. Then, decide for yourself whether the book is appropriate for your classroom or your personal collection. Finally, send an email to one of these authors for providing a perspective that might go against the mainstream or encourage others to examine their own beliefs and assumptions about a topic. Yours might be just the right kind of encourage he/she needs in order to keep writing and exploring issues and points of view that make others uncomfortable.

– Barbara A. Ward, Chair, for the Anti-Censorship Committee


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