Banned Books Week: What You Need to Know

Censorship is alive and well—and you might be surprised by who the most vocal challengers of books are.

The importance of the First Amendment and the concept of intellectual freedom might not always be readily apparent to kids, but Banned Books Week is a great opportunity to make those lessons come alive for children—and adults.

Banned Books Week is held annually starting the last Sunday in September. This year it is being celebrated Sept. 30-Oct. 6. The week is an occasion for libraries and bookstores across the U.S. to help folks realize just how real and ongoing a problem censorship is.

The Lemon Grove School District has a history of being progressive, Helen Ofield, president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society, stated in an email to Patch.

“Notwithstanding the segregation case of 1931, bilingual texts had been used in the grammar school since World War I, and possibly earlier,” Ofield said. “I haven't come across anything that was banned in the old grammar school (1893-1945), though The Grapes of Wrath was on the hit list for loads of institutions. The Associated Farmers of California had book-burning events for that one.”

More than 11,000 books have been challenged (though not necessarily censored) since 1982, the inaugural year of Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association (ALA), the vast majority of challenges to books are initiated locally by parents, likely in well-meaning attempts to protect their children. 

Last year, there were 326 challenges reported to the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, based on everything from offensive language, to violence, insensitivity, religious viewpoint and sexual explicitness. In addition to those challenges, the ALA estimates that as many as 60 to 70 percent of challenges may go unreported.

Over the past year, the 10 most challenged titles were:

1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series) by Lauren Myracle 

2. The Color of Earth (series) by Kim Dong Hwa

3. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

4. My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy by Dori Hillestad Butler

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

6. Alice (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

8. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

9. Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily Von Ziegesar

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Among banned and challenged classics you’re likely familiar with are:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Ulysses by James Joyce
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  • Beloved and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Be a rebellious reader this week and celebrate the freedom to read! Check out these additional resources:

TELL US IN COMMENTS: Do you think it's appropriate to ban certain books from schools, bookstores or libraries?

—Local Editor Christine Huard contributed to this article.

Richard Zambori October 01, 2012 at 03:21 PM
i believe it is appropriate to ban explicit pornography in any public library... leave those to the X-rated book stores... BUT to ban books based on society revolutions and tolitarian rebellion is ludicrus! I have read 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, Farenheit 451...and am currently reading The Hunger Games. I think they should be mandatory reading for all students in this country. (In any country) Nothing should be so intimidating that we can't talk about it!
Christine Huard October 01, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Thank you, Richard! I'm re-reading 'The Great Gatsby,' and looking forward to the movie coming out at Christmas.
Helen Ofield October 01, 2012 at 06:23 PM
The Steinbeck works are interesting examples. "The Grapes of Wrath" presented an unvarnished portrait of displaced workers, who swore, spat, discriminated, committed crimes and had no social graces. En route to California, the youngest Joad son, at the wheel of the famous truck, "swerved to hit a cat." Casual violence and thoughtless cruelty were part of their lives--though largely done to them. Arbiters of morals didn't decry the Joads' personal characteristics so much as the novel's perceived "red" (communistic) undertone, the legendary closing scene in the flooded barn, and the gall of a peasant class in fighting for dignity. Despite being banned in Boston and elsewhere, "The Grapes of Wrath" continues to be an all-time top seller. Pulitzer got it right.
Peggy October 03, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Thanks to Ms. Rosen and Ms. Huard for an informative article calling attention to ALA's Banned Book Week. I enjoy the privilege of working with our local teenagers in a high school library and the banned book display never fails to engage students, prompting questions as well as generating lively commentary about the reasoning behind targeting particular books. My personal favorite comment, so far, is the young person who was asking me the who, what and why of particular books, several of which were his favorites but when he looked at a dictionary and saw it, too had been the subject of banning, he said to me, "The dictionary has been targeted? That's just plain stupid!" I agree and in the spirit of the celebration pick up a banned book and have a conversation with a young person about the subject of book banning--you will not be disappointed.


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