Celebrate your freedom to read!
Since the early 80’s, the American Library Association (ALA) has celebrated Banned Books Week, a celebration of the freedom to read and defend expression of ideas, in other words, First Amendment’s rights.
The Bible, The Giver, the Harry Potter series, and The Lorax, along with authors like Carle, Morrison, and Twain are listed among the 100 most frequently challenged books from 2010-2019 (there’s a list for each decade). Even Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic has been challenged.
Yes, books. Those windows of unlimited imagination and ideas that stretch reading muscles and build understanding? The portal to worlds and characters we may never meet? Those books.
Read on to learn the basics about book banning. You may find some of your favorites on the “frequently challenged” list!
The process of challenging or banning a book
A challenged book does not mean the book disappears into thin air. Here’s an example of how book banning works:
Let’s say a parent of a 4th grader, hears through the grapevine that her child’s class is reading books by Roald Dahl this year. The parent investigates the books, and determines these books to be amoral and encouraging of bad behavior.
The parent contacts the school board and makes a case for removing the books from the school library and her child’s classroom, which is considere a “challenge” to Dahl’s books.
The school board meets and arrives at one of two options: 1) banning the books, which means they will be removed and be inaccessible from the school’s library; or 2) refuse the “challenge,” and the books remain available to students and teachers at the school.
Why are books challenged or banned?
Books are challenged every year, for a variety of reasons. The American Library Association (ALA) states books are “usually challenged with the best intentions – to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information.” The top three reasons for challenging books (as cited to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, or OIF) include “material considered to be ‘sexually explicit,’ containing ‘offensive language,’ or simply ‘unsuited to any age group.’” Parents, library patrons, and academic institutions are three groups most likely to challenge” a book.
What can we do?
Humans are a curious species, and if denied access, it motivates us to find other ways to access the material. Is limited access the “right” thing to do? It’s important for children (and everyone, really) to recognize our freedoms, and to understand the complicated nature of our First Amendment rights. Anyone can challenge any books, laws, media posts, but is it right to do so? As our country’s education system struggles with equal access, which governing body determines what is accessed? Celebrating Banned Books Week with students is a way to discuss and grapple with all of these questions and more, as we champion freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the freedom to read!
Check out the following resources for Banned Books Week:
- Banned Books Week hosts several online events to engage in discussions about controversial books and the intricate arguments for and against censorship.
- The ALA sponsors the above link, but also contains free downloadable resources, lists of challenged books, the history of book censorship, and more!
- PEN America, a non-profit organization supporting freedom of expression in literature, is hosting live discussions with authors, scholars, and educators around the ideas of censorship and equity.