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.

Absolutely True: Banned in Richland

Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, that is. The Richland School Board decided last year that the book was too dangerous for their kids to read.

“Literature used in schools ought to teach high values and character,” Richland board member Phyllis Strickler said upon the decision to ban the book from classroom instruction. “I don’t see the appropriateness of gratuitous language and descriptions of sex,” she said.

Absolutely True Diary is a semi-autobiographical book of Alexie’s own past. It won the National Book Award in 2007. It is about an Indian kid that decides to leave his reservation because other kids tease and beat him, his father’s an alcoholic, and he’s seen forty-two funerals by the time he’s 14. He decides he’s got to leave the rez, so he starts by enrolling in a high school in a nearby town full of “rich farmers, rednecks, and racist cops.”

So given this setting, is Junior’s vulgar language gratuitous, or is it integral to the story? Without showing how bad rez life is, how can readers appreciate Junior’s first steps to redemption? Evidently most critics can’t fathom that this book’s theme is “high values and character.” But redemption must have a toehold in something genuine.

Critics seem especially offended by Junior’s joking about the violence and racism he sees and about his typically teen sexual obsessions. But Alexie’s use of humor, exaggeration and irony are just what connect readers to Junior so strongly. Most readers understand obsessions, and know that sometimes people laugh when they feel like crying. And most probably get that Junior wasn’t really just “an exciting addition to the Reardan gene pool.” Alexie is the master of these literary tools. But critics either don’t get this or don’t want to. They find it easier to dismiss Alexie’s message than to grapple with it.

Alexie said in a recent article that he thinks some people would rather count cuss words than feel the story. “People don’t listen well, people don’t engage with an entire argument…they’ve been taught how to pull out quotes to argue with. Not the totality of an argument.”

With humor as a shield, Alexie has clearly slain a lot of dragons in his own life. “I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.” He says he wants his books to give people words and ideas that will help them fight their own monsters.

Unbanned! Eventually the Richland School Board reversed itself and allowed the book. Why? They got around to actually reading it. See:

Richland Board Flips on Book Ban,” Tri-City Herald, 12 July 2011: A1.