(Banned Books Week is October 1-7. Ahead of this, and our Banned Books Reading Challenge, our Collection Services Librarian wrote this thoughtful post about book challenges, lending context and historical perspective to this important and continually timely issue.)
Download the list of Banned Books here: https://bit.ly/3roIEUk
Find a list of Top 30 Banned Books for Adults here: https://bit.ly/48ENY6X
Find a list of Top 30 Banned Books for Kids here: https://bit.ly/48u5UAQ
Find a list of Top 30 Banned Books for Teens Here: https://bit.ly/3Q1oCsy
Sign up for the Banned Books Reading Challenge here: https://bit.ly/3CfzWtq
In 1993, parents in Duval County, Florida filed complaints about Alex Haley and Malcolm X’s collaboration, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), stating the work “disrupts racial harmony” (Austrie, Lyons, Chawski, 2016). Other complaints noted Malcolm X’s intense criticism of the American school system. Those who complained wanted the highly disputed book removed from the school libraries. The board ultimately voted in favor of keeping the book on shelves. For years, Duval County students had to provide a permission slip signed by a parent to check out the autobiography from school libraries.
Thirty years later in May 2023, school board members and parents in the Mentor school district determined the future of Eric Braun’s Colin Kaepernick: From Free Agent to Change Agent (2019). Parents expressed concerns regarding “radical”, “anti-American”, and “anti-police” language in the biography. The board decided to keep the title after a tied vote. Superintendent Craig Heath explained that the committee “follows expert opinion and abides by the American Library Association’s School Library Bill of Rights” (Ross, 2023). Heath added that the book “was recommended for students in grades 4-8 and most committee members believed the book provided necessary access to diverse viewpoints” (Ross, 2023). To date, the Kaepernick biography remains on shelves in Mentor schools.
The American Library Association defines a challenge as:
An attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A ban is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others (Banned Book FAQ, 2019).
Just a handful of the books that were heavily challenged in 2022 include Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019), Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), Mike Curato’s Flamer (2020), and Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2012). Reasons for challenges include “sexual content”, “drug use”, “obscene language”, and even “promoting Satanism”. A notable percentage of challenged books unveil at least one LGBTQIA+ character.
The numbers are disturbing. PEN America collected data about “2,532 instances of individual books banned in 138 school districts from July 2021 to June 2022 in its school book bans index.” (Friedman, Johnson, 2022). These challenges impacted 1,648 individual titles in total. The inclination to deem targeted materials as “harmful” is on the rise. According to PEN America, there were more book challenges during the autumn 2022 school semester than the previous two semesters.
The American Library Association also continues to compile alarming data about recent book challenges. The ALA documented 1,269 cases in 2022. That is a sharp escalation from the 729 challenges in 2021. Last year shows the highest number of “attempted book bans since the ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago” (Censorship by Numbers, 2023). The 2023 results are not shaping up to look much better.
The good news is that these items are challenged by a vocal minority. A recent poll from PEN America shows that over 70% of parents oppose book banning (Meehan, Friedman, 2022). Recent Gallup polls indicate the same. Those results show that 87% of Americans oppose restricting books that include content about race (Qamar, 2022). 71% of poll takers do not believe controversial materials should be removed from public libraries. The Gallup poll also revealed that opposition to book banning is represented by both politically left-leaning and right-leaning Americans alike. These results indicate that accessibility is in the public’s best interest.
The Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library is offering patrons an opportunity to read some of these ‘forbidden’ titles this fall with a Banned Books Reading Challenge. Banned Books Week is October 1-7. Throughout the entire month, patrons who read 5 banned books will be entered into a drawing for one of two Target gift cards. Participants can log their reading on Beanstack or use a paper log (available at all Willoughby-Eastlake branches) from October 1-November 1.
Readers can find a comprehensive list of challenged materials for all age groups at the top of this post. This list provides the reader with the book title, author, genre, reading level, and reason(s) for challenge(s) for each entry. The challenges on this list range from yesteryear to yesterday. These challenges came about under a myriad of social and political circumstances. Approximately 22% of the books on this list have been challenged for having LGBTQIA+ content.
Use October to celebrate these precious titles all month long.
Austrie, Lyons, Chawki (2016, November 15). The Censorship Files: The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Available at https://thecensorshipfiles.wordpress.com/the-autobiography-of-malcolm-x/#:~:text=In%20an%20article%20%E2%80%9CWhy%20The,representations%20drew%20criticism%20and%20backlash . (Accessed: 5 September 2023)
Banned Book FAQ (2019). American Library Association. Available at https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/banned-books-qa (Accessed: 5 September 2023)
Censorship by the numbers (2023). American Library Association. Available at https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/by-the-numbers#:~:text=ALA’s%20Office%20for%20Intellectual%20Freedom,more%20than%2020%20years%20ago. (Accessed: 5 September 2023)
Friedman, Jonathan and Johnson, Nadine (2022, September 19). “Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools”. PEN AMERICA. Available at https://pen.org/report/banned-usa-growing-movement-to-censor-books-in-schools/ . (Accessed: 5 September 2023)
Friedman, Jonathan and Meehan, Kasey(2023). “Update on Book Bans in the 2022-2023 School Year Shows Expanded Censorship of Themes Centered on Race, History, Sexual Orientation and Gender”. PEN AMERICA. Available at https://pen.org/report/banned-in-the-usa-state-laws-supercharge-book-suppression-in-schools/ . (Accessed: 5 September 2023)
Qamar, Zoha (2022, Aug). “Americans Don’t Want Books Banned, But They’re Divided Over What Schools Teach”FiveThirtyEight. Available at https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/americans-dont-want-books-banned-but-theyre-divided-over-what-schools-teach/ (Accessed: 5 September 2023) Ross, Catherine (2023, May 10). “Controversial Book will remain in Mentor public schools”. News 5 Cleveland. Available at https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/controversial-book-will-remain-in-mentor-public-schools#:~:text=The%20committee%20voted%208-3,School%20Library%20Bill%20of%20Rights . (Accessed: 5 September 2023)