I Want You to Read What They Don’t Want Us to Read

Holy cats, how did it get to be September already? Don’t ask me how, but we are definitely here! The good news is that we find ourselves looking at a new reading challenge. Read the book, post a photo of it with #everettreads, and be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card courtesy of the Friends of the Everett Public Library. Thanks, Friends! This month we’re going to read a book that was banned or challenged.

What is book banning, and what is the difference between banning a book and challenging one? I’ll let the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom explain:

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning 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.  Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

Have you heard me say lately that librarians and library staff are fierce protectors of intellectual freedom and your right to choose what you read? Because it’s true, and nowhere is this more obvious than when we talk about challenges to library materials in the attempt to prevent others from accessing them. You know–censorship.

Reasons for book challenges in 2018.

These are actual reasons why folks tried to have books banned last year.

Banned Books Week is September 22-28, 2019. However, we can get a jump start on this month’s EPL reading challenge by checking out the list of the most challenged books of 2018:

George by Alex Gino
Reasons: banned, challenged, and relocated because it was believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning “dirty magazines,” describing male anatomy, “creating confusion,” and including a transgender character.

 

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
Reasons: banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ content, and for political and religious viewpoints.

 

 

Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple.

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: banned and challenged because it was deemed “anti-cop,” and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references.

 

 

 

Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ characters and themes.

 

 

 

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons: banned, challenged, and restricted for addressing teen suicide.

 

 

 

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and certain illustrations.

 

 

Skippyjon Jones series written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
Reason: challenged for depicting stereotypes of Mexican culture.

 

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: banned and challenged for sexual references, profanity, violence, gambling, and underage drinking, and for its religious viewpoint.

 

 

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Reason: challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content.

 

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Reason: challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content.

 

 

 

You’ll notice that the final two books on the list, This Day in June and Two Boys Kissing, were also burned. BURNED. It’s the twenty-first century and some folks are still so threatened by certain ideas that they will light books on FIRE. I’d say it’s unbelievable but I remember all too well this report of a 2018 book burning. This Day in June and Two Boys Kissing, in addition to Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne & Max Lang and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino were checked out from an Iowa public library and burned. The person responsible recorded it all on video and posted it online as a “protest.”

Stories like that make my skin crawl.

If you tell me the “problems” with a book you’re just going to make me want to read it even more; double that if you tell me that certain illustrations are why you’re trying to prevent folks from reading it. I am absolutely going to read This One Summer.

What banned or challenged book are you going to read? You can tell me in the comments, or you can take it one step further and participate in the Dear Banned Author postcard writing campaign. Write a postcard (author mailing addresses listed here) or tweet an author of a banned/challenged/burned book. Let them know what the stories you read mean to you and show your support.

To all you authors of challenged, banned, and burned books: thank you.

Ban This Book

Finally, it’s time for Amy Anne to check out her most favorite book in the whole world from the school library. Her school librarian, Mrs. Jones, has this rule where you can only renew a book twice before it has to be returned and sit on the shelf for five days to give other students the chance to check it out. After waiting those five looooong days, Amy Anne is ready to re-read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. But when she gets to the H-N shelves in the school library the book isn’t there waiting for her. Thinking maybe another student checked it out, Amy Anne asks Mrs. Jones who delivers unbelievable, devastating news: Amy Anne’s favorite book has been banned from the school library.

Thus begins Ban This Book by Alan Gratz.

As Amy Anne learns more about book banning and the potential fate of her most favorite book, she decides for once that she will stand up and use her voice. After all, at the school board meeting where the book banning will become official, someone has to speak up on behalf of the accused. The problem is in the heat of the moment her insecurities and fears about speaking in public and standing up to authority overpower her better judgement and she remains silent.

Her parents are pretty upset about this. They rearranged their entire family’s schedule in order to take her to the school board meeting, but when her father sees her crying in the car on the way home from the meeting he stops off at the bookstore and buys Amy Anne her very own copy of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Amy Anne is happy to have her very own copy, but she knows this is bigger than just one book for one kid. What about all the other kids at her school? Not all the kids know about the book and definitely not all kids have parents who will drive them to the bookstore and buy them their own copy. One single parent on the PTA is denying access to hundreds of kids just because she didn’t want her son to read a particular book!

As she contemplates the implications for her fellow students (and re-reads From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler again) she decides she’ll bring her copy of the book in to school to let her friend borrow it. Another student overhears their exchange and asks if he can borrow it after that. Amy Anne agrees, but that’s not where our story ends.

Soon the PTA parent who demanded From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler be removed from the school library demands another book be removed. And another. And then an entire shelf is missing from the school library and Amy Anne is both confused and upset because she can’t think of a single thing wrong with any of the books being removed from the library.

As the list of removed books grows, so does determination. Amy Anne’s friends have copies of some of the books and Amy Anne buys a few others with money she’d saved from her birthday. Soon she posts a list of the banned books on her locker which is immediately noticed by the school administration, who demands she remove the sign from her locker.

Amy Anne complies but only for appearances. She replaces the list with a school spirit poster that has the books on the reverse side. Here’s where people can see which books are checked out and which are available for them to read. Then they make arrangements with Amy Anne to read it and then pass it on to the next student.

Amy Anne has accidentally started the Banned Books Lending Library from her locker!

The list of banned books grows and Amy Anne gets bold. I won’t tell you what happens next–you’ll have to read it for yourself and find out.

Kids and adults alike will enjoy this book. I highlighted so many passages! Amy Anne is my new favorite champion of the First Amendment.

My favorite part of the story was the banned books themselves. The titles are there for any kid to track down, a veritable bibliography hiding in plain sight. As the author’s note states, all the books that are banned in this book have actually been challenged or banned recently in America. I hope this information, coupled with Amy Anne and the other students’ enjoyment of reading these books in the story, will lead readers to check out these other books and explore perspectives and stories they might never have found on their own.

As libraries across the country celebrate Banned Books Week this week, we celebrate the freedom to read. And what better way than to read a banned book? Here’s the list from Amy Anne’s Banned Books Lending Library. Which one will you read?

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankeiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
All the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park
All the Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey
All the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine

Whoops! BANNED Book Week

Well.

I humbly compose this retraction. As many of you probably realize, this is not Band Book Week but rather Banned Book Week. Obviously an ostrich of an entirely different color. Sure, band books are important, and what with the sex and drugs some of them are probably banned band books, but what we really celebrate this week is freedom from censorship.

Libraries and schools are targets for those who feel that certain types of materials should not be accessible in a public venue. They challenge these books, approaching those in authority with a request to have the books removed from circulation. Sometimes, sadly, the books are removed (banned), but more often they remain available.

Many recognized masterworks are frequently challenged, including 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and The Grapes of Wrath.

Books 1-4Newer challenged books include Fifty Shades of Grey and The Lovely Bones.

Books 4.1-4.2

Children’s and young adult materials are frequently challenged, including Captain Underpants, The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Books 5-8

Graphic novels are not exempt from attempted censorship. Bone by Jeff Smith was number 10 on the 2013 most often challenged list. Other critically acclaimed graphic novels such as Blankets by Craig Thompson and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel have also been protested as containing “obscene images.”

Books 9-11All of these examples are wonderful books in the eyes of some readers, but books that should be hidden from the light of day by others.

Why, you might wonder, would someone think a book should be banned? Reasons ranging from sexual overtones to anti-family content, from promotion of smoking and drinking to coarse language, from sexism to nudity are all used to justify the challenges to these books. There will always be materials that someone objects to, but fortunately we have a system that allows people to object, their objections to be reviewed, and censorship to generally not be tolerated.

Let me regale you with a couple of stories from my life that help illuminate my attitude.

My high school librarian was not a very friendly person. Most students did not like him. It came to light that he took it upon himself to hide books in a back room if he thought that they were not suitable for students. These books did not show up in the card catalog and he did not go through any channels to have the books banned. It was purely one individual’s decision. And of course these decisions impacted hundreds of people each year. This is not a shocking story that ends with our hero being wrongly tortured and executed, but it did shape my attitudes towards censorship.

The second story is that of living in a country which practices censorship. For two years I lived in Malaysia and this provided an interesting introduction to censorship. Certain books and magazines were not allowed in bookstores (I never interacted with the library system if there is one). Movies were edited to remove language and objectionable scenes, as were television shows. Of course this censorship was carried out for religious reasons, and I respect this, but it did make me appreciate the freedoms we have here. And on a side note, much like Prohibition times in the USA, the censored materials were available if you knew where to look, but getting caught was not a desirable outcome.

Getting back to the books that were listed above, I’ve read about half of them and I’m a better person for it. I sometimes read books that disturb me but often gain something from them. I enjoy themes that might disturb others and I’m glad that books with those themes can be found in my public library. And most of all, I’m ecstatic that I don’t have to secretly obtain censored books and live in fear of being discovered with them.

So celebrate! Check out a banned book and see what the fuss is all about. Come to the main library to see our banned book display. Find a book that you think should be banned and try to approach it with an open mind, perhaps searching for redeeming qualities. In all activities, rejoice that you have the freedom to object, to read and most of all, to benefit from the collections that we maintain in the library.

Caught in the Act: We Read Banned Books

Sex, drugs, and bathroom humor – all of these and more could land a book on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books. In honor of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of our freedom to read whatever we see fit, we’ve asked A Reading Life regulars and guest posters to tell us about their favorite banned books.

The Face on the Milk Carton coverTheresa
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Janie Johnston’s life was boring, boring, boring until one day at lunch when she grabbed her friend’s milk carton. She was allergic to milk, but one little sip wouldn’t be a big deal, would it? On the milk carton was a picture of a little girl kidnapped from a shopping mall 12 years earlier. Suddenly, Janie remembered the dress, the way the starched collar itched, and the way her braids tickled her cheeks. “The girl on the back of the carton,” she whispered to her friends, “it’s me.” Janie cannot believe that her loving parents kidnapped her, but as she tries to piece together what happened, no other answer makes sense.

This story of Janie’s quest to find answers and to discover her true identity is a captivating read; a book that I have easily sold to teens looking for a good book. I was surprised to find it on a list of frequently challenged books. The most common reasons listed were: challenge to authority, sexual content, and inappropriate for age group. Yes, Janie skips school with her boyfriend Reeve to try to find some clues as to what is the truth of her parentage, (challenge to authority?). The complaint about sexual content really surprised me. I had to reread the book to figure out where that came from. Reeve asks Janie how they will explain skipping school, he says, “they’ll figure it’s sex we wanted….” (sexual content?). “Inappropriate for age group”, is the one complaint that may have some merit when it is coming from elementary school parents since the book deals with teenagers and high school issues. Grade school readers might not be familiar with high school life, and they might not be interested in dating and such, but the plot isn’t particularly what I would consider to be for mature audiences.

I will continue to recommend The Face on the Milk Carton and its sequels. Janie’s dilemma, “What if I am not who I think I am?” is a theme that resonates with teens as they look for their place in the world, and the intrigue as she unravels the mystery of her origin make for a fast read.

The Stupids Step Out coverRon
The Stupids series, by Harry Allard
The Stupids are a wonderful non-conformist family whose adventures can be read about in The Stupids Step Out and The Stupids Have a Ball, among others. Along with their cat Xylophone and dog Kitty, Stanley Stupid, his wife and their two children Buster and Petunia look at life a little differently than most.

A typical day in the Stupid household might include breakfasting in the shower, mowing the rug, interpreting a power outage as death, and sleeping with their feet on their pillows. Illustrations are filled with weird touches such as strangely labeled pictures hanging on walls, people engaged in bizarre activities or wearing odd clothing, and pets who are more clever than their owners.

In other words, these are silly books. There is something for both kids and adults to enjoy and little chance that children will be permanently warped through reading about the Stupids. So be a rebel, read a banned book to your kid. Just make sure to wash their pillowcase after they use it for their stinky feet.

The Glass Castle coverMarge
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
“Don’t I always take care of you,” asks Jeannette Walls’s father, in her memoir, The Glass Castle. In reality he almost never did. Raised by both a father and a mother who seemed genuinely oblivious to the needs of their children, Walls recalls frequent moves, poverty, hunger and neglect. Remarkably, she describes her turbulent family life in a matter-of-fact tone without bitterness or self pity and with flashes of humor and a sense of the ridiculous.

A popular book on the New York Times bestseller list for many weeks, The Glass Castle was also among the top 10 most challenged books in 2012 for offensive language and sexually explicit content according to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom. Indeed, there is some foul language and one particularly distasteful scene but the language and content simply seem appropriate to the story the author is telling.

Those unlucky enough to be deprived of the opportunity to read this book would miss the story of a woman of great resilience and forbearance who not only survives but prevails. Refusing to let her past define her, Walls moves to New York City at seventeen, finds work, graduates from Barnard College and begins a career as a journalist. As the book ends, she is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at her home for her mother and siblings seemingly at peace with the past.

Blankets cover imageAlan
Blankets by Craig Thompson
This terrific coming-of-age graphic novel was pretty famously challenged for its depiction of a nude teen. How bad is it? Out of 592 pages, we’ve got 1 or 2 pages that are risqué (and beautiful, brutal, and true). Pick up this phonebook-sized volume and your reward is the real deal, a literary depiction of what it is to: come of age with a brother, fall in love, lose your faith, and be a human being. The art is incredibly evocative. Innocence is wide-eyed, with thin lines and graceful flow. Anger is expressionistic, jagged, thick, and black, black, black. Highest possible recommendation.

What did Thompson do next? The gorgeous, even more care wrought Habibi.

We hope this short list has tempted you to take a walk on the wild side and read some banned book with us. For more information about Banned Books Week, and why books are challenged or banned, check out ALA’s excellent collection of resources on the topic.