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  • Writer's pictureMarina Rose

Banned Books Week 2021

Updated: Jan 4

It's that time of year! Time to talk about censorship and the books that have been banned or challenged the most over the last year. That's right - it's Banned Books Week! Why do we celebrate Banned Books Week? Because we believe in the freedom to read and to choose what you want to read.

"But if a book is banned, isn't it bad?"

Bad is such a subjective term, don't you think? What you and your family may not like, could be what another family loves to read. So whether you love Harry Potter or cannot stand it, that's okay! Those books will be freely available for those who do want to read and learn from them.

Banner "Books Unite Us, Save the Date: Banned Books Week September 26 - October 2, 2021"

History of Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is an annual awareness campaign held the last week of September. It began in 1982, when Judith Krug, library and First Amendment activist, was approached by the Association of American Publishers to bring awareness of banned and challenged books to the general public. Today, Banned Books Week is largely promoted by the American Library Association (ALA). This campaign examines both book (and library service) bans and challenges, which includes any public request for removal or reassignment of a book (or service), generally within a library setting. Amnesty International also celebrates Banned Books Week - specifically raising awareness for writers who have been persecuted or killed for their work. This organization provides updates for persecuted writers' cases in several different countries, especially those with high rates of censorship. You can read more about Banned Books Week in my post from 2019.

Banned/Challenged Books of 2020

2020 was a rough year for all of us. Many libraries were closed to the public for at least part of the year (our library included). Even so, challenges to library books and services were received all over the US. Below is a look at the top 10 books that were challenged, along with reasons for the removal requests. Keep in mind that of the hundreds of reported challenges every year, there are hundreds more that go unreported. (It is estimated that 80-90% of challenges do not get reported to the ALA.) To find a larger list of challenged and banned books check out the ALA's frequently challenged book list.

Poster of Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020. It reads: "The American Library Association tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020. A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials or services based on content. Overall, 273 books were targeted. Here are the 'Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020,' along with the reasons cited for censoring the books. 1) George by Alex Gino; Challenged and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting 'the values of the community' 2) 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. 3) 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.' 4) 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. 5) 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. 6)Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story About Racial Injustice by Marianna Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin, Challenged for 'divisive language' and because it was thought to promote anti-police views. 7) 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. 8) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students. 9) The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit an depicts child sexual abuse, 10) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message.
"The freedom to read is essential to our democracy."

As I stated in my 2019 post, "We don’t have to agree about the appropriateness of a particular book, but I hope we can agree that each of us should be able to decide what is appropriate for ourselves."

You can read the full Freedom to Read Statement from the American Library Association here. If you want to get involved with Banned Books Week - check out virtual events and ways to get involved on the Banned Books website.

Take Our Banned Books Challenge

For the entire month of September, we are challenging YOU to read a book that has been banned or challenged and tell us what you think. Should it have been banned or challenged? Why or why not? For each banned book you read fill out a form or tag us in a picture on Instagram for a chance to win some Banned Books swag! The last day to turn in your forms is Saturday, October 2.

Happy reading!

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