Harry Potter, Of Mice and Men, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. What do they all have in common? It’s not that they have film adaptions or lead with male protagonists. It’s not even their underlying themes of death and inner demons. No, these influential novels have all been classified as three of the top one-hundred most challenged books of the last decade.
That’s right. According to the American Library Association, these works of fiction were some of the most controversial books in schools and libraries across the country from 2000 to 2009. But these aren’t isolated incidents. Every year, these institutions face criticism and backlash over what books they will or won’t allow within their walls. These complaints can come from parents, but are often backed by other members of their community, including school boards and administrators. In some instances, books are just challenged for removal, but in others, they’re completely banned.
These instances of banned books have caused a lot of commotion in the world of publishing when it comes to free speech. To combat this censorship, every year the Banned Books Week Coalition celebrates the hundreds of books that find themselves up for debate. You’ll find libraries, schools, and even concert halls putting on events speaking out against this kind of censorship. We’re currently right in the middle of Banned Books Week and this year, it lasts through Saturday, September 30.
One of the easiest ways to get involved is to participate in the Virtual Read-Out. Readers all around the world can participate by recording videos of themselves reading aloud from banned books. These videos can be submitted to be uploaded to the Banned Books Week YouTube channel for public viewing. Some readers choose to say a few words on the topic of censorship and the freedom to read in their videos. The American Library Association also has some great tips for what to say and a list of which books you can read from.
A lot of the time, books are banned because their content is deemed inappropriate for an age group or an academic setting. It’s often parents who are making the complaints, arguing their child shouldn’t be forced to read the book for class or that younger students shouldn’t be exposed to the content. Some of the most commonly challenged content is profanity, challenging authority, sexual content, and homosexuality.
The whole debate honestly comes down to censorship and who is in charge of what students are allowed to read. Is it their parents? Can schools have a say? And if so, how do we censor books from some kids without affecting others’ right to read? It’s a messy situation that results in all or nothing access for books that go against the grain. And while this works for those who take issue, it only creates problems for those who just want to read.