It’s Banned Books Week 2012! The national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Banned Books Week began in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, and it’s been going strong ever since.
UNBORED has a feature titled “Banned Books You Should Read” — so you can tell that our sympathies are with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and Banned Books Week. Here is our feature!
Every year, the American Library Association publishes a list of the Top 100 Banned or Challenged Books. Imagine a library that wasn’t allowed to loan books by Judy Blume, J.K. Rowling, or Roald Dahl — yet these authors are among the most frequently challenged!
Books are challenged or banned because a person or group strongly believes that library visitors (particularly kids) need to be protected from “inappropriate” ideas or information. Free-speech advocates argue that only parents should have the right and responsibility to restrict access to certain library books — and even then, they should only restrict their own children’s access. Thanks to the efforts of librarians and others, the majority of library books challenged each year are not banned or restricted.
Here are five series and books from the ALA’s list of the 100 most often banned or challenged books of the past decade.
His Dark Materials
By Philip Pullman, 1995–2000 series
Twelve-year-old Lyra Belacqua finds herself caught in the middle of a cosmic war, on one side of which is the tyrannical Authority (who is mistaken for God by the church to which Lyra’s mother belongs), and on the other side of which is her father, the scientist Lord Asriel. Witches, zeppelins, and armor-wearing polar bears make an appearance. Some feel the series is disrespectful of Christianity.
By Dav Pilkey, 1997–present series
Fourth-grade pranksters George Beard and Harold Hutchins attend a school that discourages imagination and fun. So they hypnotize the school’s grouchy principal, Mr. Krupp, and he becomes Captain Underpants — a superhero who is kind to children, and who fights villains like Dr. Diaper and Wedgie Woman. Some complain that the series is gross, and disrespectful of school authority figures.
To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper Lee, 1960
Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, a tomboy, recalls growing up in a rural Alabama town during the Great Depression. When her lawyer father, Atticus, is appointed to defend a black man for a crime he didn’t commit, Scout learns how important it is to obey your conscience, no matter what the consequences. Some object to the fact that the novel (and Atticus) condemns racism but not racists.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain, 1884
Huckleberry Finn is a 13-year-old runaway who floats down the Mississippi River in the company of Jim, an escaping slave. They encounter robbers, slavers, feuding families, and con artists. At first Huck worries that it’s wrong to help a slave escape, but because Jim is such a good, loving person, Huck changes his mind. Though Huck and the novel are antiracist, some object to the book’s use of a racial slur common at the time.
By Lois Lowry, 1993
Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a future society that has eliminated war, violence, poverty, prejudice, and injustice by converting to “Sameness” — which means that no one is permitted to make decisions about their own lives, or to have emotions. When Jonas catches a glimpse of what life was like before Sameness, he decides to run away. Some claim that the book’s subject material is inappropriate for young readers.