image via The American Library Association
September 26th through October 3rd is Banned Books Week, a celebration of the First Amendment and the importance of free access to reading materials. Founded in 1982, BBW is a response to the to the sudden uptick in challenges against books commonly found in schools, libraries, and stores. Criteria for banning ranges from displeasure over sexual or violent content to positive portrayals of minorities (most prominently the gay community) or negative portrayals of racial or religious groups.
These bans have taken place in hundreds of communities across the country. Books targeted for banning include contemporary fiction - including children's picture books! - and much-loved classics. To combat the rise in challenges on books, librarians and bookstore owners have taken it upon themselves to defy censorship by displaying these titles as legitimate, welcome works of literature.
What were the top 10 banned or challenged books of 2008? According to BannedBooksWeek.org and the American Library Association, they were:
And Tango Makes Three (Richardson, Parnell) - banned for anti-ethnic/anti-family sentiments, religious viewpoint, portrayal of homosexuality; deemed unsuitable for age group.
His Dark Materials trilogy (Pullman) - banned for religious/political viewpoint, violence.
TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R series (Myracle) - banned for offensive language, sexually explicit content; deemed unsuitable for age group.
Scary Stories series (Schwartz) - banned for portrayal of the occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, violence.
Bless Me, Ultima (Anaya) - banned for portrayal of the occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit content, violence.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Chbosky) - banned for drugs, portrayal of homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit content, suicide; deemed unsuitable for age group.
Gossip Girl series (von Ziegesar) - banned for offensive language, sexually explicit content; deemed unsuitable for age group.
Uncle Bobby's Wedding (Brannen) - banned for portrayal of homosexuality; deemed unsuitable for age group.
The Kite Runner (Hosseini) - banned for offensive language, sexually explicit content; deemed unsuitable for age group.
Flashcards of My Life (Harper) - banned for sexually explicit content; deemed unsuitable for age group.
The American Library Association also has a list of the most frequently banned or challenged books of the 20th century - how many of these classics have you read?
For more information on Banned Books Week in the US, visit:
The American Library Association - get free downloads of BBW posters, webpage badges, and lists of banned books from previous years.
Banned Books Week - see a map of all the communities in the US with registered book challenges from 2007 to 2009; find a list of things you can do to promote reading controversial books.
UPenn's Online Books Page - find general information on banned books throughout history, and why people today are so concerned with children's literature.
"Why Banned Books Week Matters" - Library scientist John Mark Ockerbloom's essay on the importance of BBW and the twin freedoms endorsed by celebrating it - the freedom to read AND the freedom to write.
For an international perspective on censoring writers, visit:
Amnesty USA - learn about the far-reaching impact of literary censorship; read cases in which authors and members of the foreign media have been harrassed or imprisoned for their artistic or critical expression.
Happy (dangerous) reading, everyone!