Banned Books Week 2018: When’s Enough, Enough?


Celebrate your freedom to read. Read a banned book! That’s right, celebrate your freedom to read. It’s an important freedom, and it’s protected by the First Amendment. Celebrate the right to read which books we choose. Censorship is censorship. There’s a fine line between challenged and banned books. Sometimes it’s fine and, sometimes not.

Banned Books Week, promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International reminds us freedom is not easily maintained. We must retain our ability to think, reason and have access to thoughts different from our own.

Banned Books Week, Sept. 23-29 ’18, is really about perspective. What you think is offensive, may not offend me, and vice-versa; who decides? I mean, who decides what we can read, as children and later as adults?

Books are still being banned. In 2018! Really. As of this writing, I have not been able to find a simple definitive figure for the number of books challenged and banned this year, on the ALA website, which I find disappointing.

Well, in truth, the law actually already decided this very issue. Based on the First Amendment, librarians may not restrict any materials; in regard to children, only parents may do so. In Texas v. Johnson, (’89) Justice William J. Brennan gave this opinion: “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea solely because society finds that the idea itself is offensive or disagreeable…”

In my first year as K-6 school Principal, our library clerk came into my office, crying. A well-meaning parent was in the library ripping pages out of books. Back in my office, I counseled them both and no, books were not to be removed from shelves without proper procedures. Take it to the School Board, fine. But not that day, not in my office. Not with me. Never. And here we are years later, same old stuff. Books being challenged, books being banned.

I taught a number of banned or challenged books during my career as HS English, Speech and Reading Teacher. Favorites included:The Giver, Witch of Blackbird Pond, To Kill a Mockingbird,Bridge to Terabithia, Tuck Everlasting, Lord of the Flies.

I don’t know about you, but I want to read what I want to read. Everybody has different tastes, I know, but there’s plenty to read to suit everybody’s preferences. That’s what we’re really talking about, isn’t it, preferences?

Well, I prefer not to have anyone tell me what I can or cannot read. Looking at today’s list of most frequently challenged books, I do see commonalities. To me, anything having to do with today’s morals and values in such a rapidly changing, too frequently divisive landscape is on the list. Stuff we need to read to understand one another, to know. Let’s look.

Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2017

  1. Thirteen Reasons Why; Jay Asher: (suicide discussion).
  2. The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian; Sherman Alexie: (profanity, sex).
  3. Drama; Raina Teigemeir: (LGBT, etc.).
  4. The Kite Runner; Khaled Hosseini: (Islamic questions).
  5. George; Alex Gin: (transgender child).
  6. Sex is a Funny Word; Cory Silverberg: (sex education, etc.).
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird; Harper Lee: (violence, use of ‘n’ word).
  8. The Hate U Give; Angie Thomas: (drugs, profanity, vulgar).
  9. And Tango Makes Three; Parnell and Richardson: (same- sex relationship).
  10. I Am Jazz, Herthel and Jennings: (gender identity).

I didn’t intend to write a blog today, it’s Family Weekend and I’ve promised to be fully present, not blogging. But there it was, this topic, so darn juicy, so relevant for today, staring me in my face. My family talked about this, we agreed it is important to discuss, together, as one, and hope our readers will spend time talking at schoolhouse, business and home.

We are all affected, not just librarians taking unwanted criticism. Teachers, Principals, School Boards, County Offices and possibly Courts may be the ultimate deciders in what books are read in classrooms and school libraries. It’s a huge business. Follow the money. Really not so sure what happens in public libraries, in regard to books being challenged and banned. I intend to get more information now. I’m not even sure it’s an issue.

I can tell you this. I have been working on this blog topic for a couple days now, and I have so much more I want to learn. Including: challenges and bans: numbers, types, procedures, remedies, locations, etc. Who is really in charge of what we read? Aren’t we?

Our Eugene Public library is so impressive, it was their Banned Books Week Campaign that inspired me to write this article for us to think about. Banned Book Week is no Dr. Seuss party week. However, it is, in one broad sweep a tremendous undertaking to protect the reading and writing rights of all people.

I thank the American Library Association and local libraries for encouraging the protection of people who write thought provoking, relevant titles. It is imperative that authors are free from persecution or threat from others’ thinking differently.

This is my third recent article as a triple header of literacy stories. “World Literacy Day 2018: Now What?,” and “Do Kids Have A Fundamental Right to Literacy?” Now this. Get people literate, then let them read!

Morgan said “It is not fair. Anyone can read what she or he wants to read. Even if someone says you can or can’t, you can read it, because you want to read it.” I just need permission from my mom and dad to say I can read it. Other people don’t get to tell me what I can or can’t read.” Pretty profound for a seven year old, second grader. She had been listening to our grown up discussion, which was pretty interesting.

Did you know “The Wizard of Oz” was a banned book for a number of years? I was surprised to read that. There are so many books that have been censored over the years. What titles would you add to our growing, ever growing list?

Children’s books and young adult fiction are also frequently challenged. From ALA (American Library Association) comes another list, it even includes picture books. Really.

Challenged Kids’ List

  1. I Am Jazz; Herthel and Jennings: (transgender child).
  2. The Watsons Go to Birmingham: Paul Curtis): (offensive language, etc.).
  3. Where’s Waldo?; Martin Hanford: (beach scene).
  4. Baseball Saved Us; Ken Mochizuki: (internment camps, racial slur).
  5. Anastasia Krupnik; Lois Lowry: (teen life, drinking, sex, etc.)
  6. It’s A Girl Thing, How To Stay Healthy, Safe, and In Charge; Jakes: (puberty).

Can you imagine, “Where’s Waldo”? Better go grab my two copies from Morgan’s library shelves. It’s supposed to show people on the beach. In particular, a version published in 1987 apparently showed a glimpse of a woman’s bare top, and somebody spotted it, I certainly never would have. I can barely find Waldo. I am clueless other than that one sketch why this book would be challenged.

It’s more important than ever for us to encourage and support an educated electorate. Many children and adults still do not have access to public or school libraries and internet access. Our libraries serve a critical function. Everyone deserves the right to read whatever they perceive of interest or benefit. Nobody should be told what to read. Or what should not be read. Never. No Censorship.

This topic remains a work in progress.

Banned Book Week, couple of ideas for a start

First, join together as a collective voice and say no to censorship. Period. Next, know what procedures are in place for challenging or in last resort, banning a book. Also, support public and school libraries. Fully staff and fund our libraries. Finally, maintain relevant, current titles wanted and needed by a literate, interested community with the right, by law, to know!

Look, I understand this is a really tough, tough topic for us. In fact, a book was read last year in first grade I thought was really gross, and inappropriate for that grade level. As a nana, I kept silent. But now I wonder what procedures are in place for a parent concerned about a particular book being read or taught in the classroom? Or on a classroom or library shelf?

So, I see all sides of this issue, with many perspectives, different combinations and permutations, that’s for sure. What do you think?

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita

P.S. Thank you tonight to my family for donating Family Day to this blog and my friend for his editing help. Photo credit to Eugene photographer Charles Palmer. Chuck took a series of stunning photos of Banned Books displays at the Eugene Public Library.

Leave a comment