Celebrate the freedom to read! Banned Books week takes place September 27 – October 3, 2020. The American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has announced this year’s Banned Books Week theme – Censorship is a Dead End. Find Your Freedom to Read. ALA suggests ways for libraries to participate in #BannedBooksWeek through literary actions, and it offers links to images and resources. Librarians have asked that we take a moment to highlight a few of Library Development and Networking staff members’ personal favorite reads that have been challenged.
The Hate U Give by Angie Tomas
Selected by Mark Smith, State Librarian, and Jennifer Peters, Director of Library Development and Networking
Mark Smith, State Librarian: One of my favorite books that has been recently challenged is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book is such an insightful and authentic exploration of the complexity of race in our society. For me this book provided perspectives that I have not seen in any other book. The main character is a Black teenager who lives in a lower income Black neighborhood but goes to school at an affluent, predominantly white school and so is torn between the values and conflicts of these two worlds. It strikes me as so misguided that at a time when we need to build compassion and understanding between people, there are those who would seek to keep this book from young readers.
Jennifer Peters, Director of Library Development and Networking: I have many favorite banned books, but the one that seems most relevant to me right now is Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, which shines a spotlight on a police-involved shooting and its impact on a family and community. Starr Carter, an African American teenager who code-switches between her largely white prep school by day and her close-knit family and working-class neighborhood by night, is the only civilian witness in the death of a childhood friend. In the aftermath, Starr is pulled in many directions as she processes a traumatic experience that leads to local protests. I believe the book is more nuanced than its “anti-cop” detractors would have you believe. I was particularly touched by Starr’s discussions with her family as she processes her experience. As with any sixteen-year-old, she hasn’t got it all figured out just yet, and the book reflects her uncertainty and evolving feelings as events around her take on a life of their own.
Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
Valicia Greenwood, Library Data Coordinator: When I was a librarian in a K-8 school, I used to keep a print-out of the Top 100 Banned Books, in small print like the one attached, on one of the shelf ends. I have spent many long and wonderful hours reading books on that list and wanted to share! Okay, it was maybe not the best idea: I had many requests to purchase books that were not entirely age-appropriate!
The Harry Potter series was first sold in the US the summer my oldest son turned 11. My children loved the fact that, as a librarian, I could order and receive four copies whenever the next book came out in the summer. The oldest and his three siblings would shut their doors and escape to that magical world, and I would get some peace for a few days! I read the volumes as well, wishing I was not such a muggle, but could learn the magic arts, too. We even threw a Harry Potter birthday party for my third child, complete with a sorting hat, potions class and a game of Quidditch! Attendees wore cloaks and hats and had a great time entering into the fun! I am proud and pleased to see that Harry Potter topped the list of banned books between 2000-2009. Collectively, I believe these books challenge our ideas and help us expand our mind beyond its normal boundaries, and they are some of my favorite reads, no question.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Ann Griffith, Electronic Resources Coordinator: My selection is the classic children’s book The Story of Ferdinand, written by Munro Leaf with illustrations by Robert Lawson. Like many, I like that the main character is calm and kind and remains true to his unique nature. I also admire Lawson’s witty etchings. Leaf published his book in 1936, a time of increasing global unrest. Ferdinand the pacifist bull was viewed by some as a subversive political metaphor. Adolf Hitler called the book “degenerate democratic propaganda,” then banned and burned it in Nazi Germany. Ferdinand was banned in Spain from the 1930s until after the death of the country’s dictator, General Franco, in 1974. Munro Leaf, surprised by the international controversy over a book he “thought was for children,” called it “propaganda for laughter only.” It has never been out of print.
Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Kate Reagor, Resource Sharing Support Specialist: My son is getting started early on banned books with the Captain Underpants series! Both of the main characters, like my son (and the author!), have ADHD, and it makes him so happy to see himself represented in a positive light. Some perceive the series as encouraging disruptive behavior, but its main impact on him so far has been to encourage him to draw his own comics. The last book in the series was banned because when the two boys time travel to find their future “old” selves (they’re, like, 30!), one of them happens to have a husband. Nathaniel didn’t care about that, but he did have lots of ideas for how he would use a time machine!
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Laura Tadena, Equity and Inclusion Consultant: One of my favorite banned books from my childhood is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. This horror series became the most challenged book of the 90’s because of the controversial material. People challenged this book because they claimed it had terrifying illustrations and was “too mature” for the intended audience. Fortunately for me, these books were available in my middle school library and was the reason I fell in love with reading. I remember being drawn to the scary covers and then reading and re-reading them all weekend. When I was a school librarian, scary books were the most requested items in my school library, and I was more than happy to add these to my collection.
Banned Books Week is offered every year to recognize the ongoing commitment to protecting everyone’s right to read. We celebrate the invaluable– and often brave–work of librarians and communities as they support reading and readers, especially in challenging times. For more information about Banned Book Week, please visit the Office of Intellectual Freedom’s Banned Books Week webpage. What is your favorite banned book? Let us know in the comments!