This week -- Sept. 26-Oct. 4 -- we're celebrating Banned Books Week. This annual celebration was created by the American Library Association in 1982 to highlight efforts to resist censorship. As part of our efforts to celebrate Banned Books Week, we've put out a display in the library's Children's Room of children's books that have been challenged. We'll also be highlighting teen and adult books that people have attempted to have banned. We encourage you to check out these books -- many are classics and definitely worth reading!
Just what are banned books? Well, few books actually end up banned in the United States. But there are hundreds of challenges to books each year around the nation. The American Library Association estimates that it hears of one in every five book challenges; most challenges are never reported.
Book challenges most often are made by parents to materials on the shelves of school libraries. But public libraries also get their share of challenges. Our library fortunately has never faced a book challenge, a reflection of the value that Takoma Park residents put on intellectual freedom.
People challenge books for a variety of reasons: violence, sexual content, unsuited to age group, witchcraft and – one of the biggest reasons today – opposition to books with homosexual themes or characters. Most challenges are unsuccessful and the books are retained on the shelves of school and public libraries.
The most challenged book last year, as in 2007, was a picture book, And Tango Makes Three, a book by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell that’s based on the true story of how two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo raised a baby penguin together. Other books among last year’s Top 10 included the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. (For the 2008 list of challenged books, go to: http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/21stcenturychallenged/2008/index.cfm).
In fact, if you look at the list of challenged books, it’s essentially a list of classic books that make worthwhile and interesting reading. And that’s where our Banned Books Club comes in.
Our club was the brainchild of a Takoma Park eighth grader. In the year since the club’s creation, we’ve read all kinds of great books, from The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier’s seminal young adult novel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to Bridge To Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins, both by former Takoma Park resident Katherine Paterson.
One month we focused on picture books, such as “n the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak , Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman and, of course, And Tango Makes Three. Other months we’ve explored more somber topics as we discussed One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. The Friends of the Takoma Park Maryland Library voted to support the club by purchasing multiple copies of each book we read so there are plenty available for checking out.
Our club is open to all readers of middle school age, and we’ve developed a core of regulars who love to delve deeply into books and share what they’ve learned with others. These are kids who take delight in navigating difficult texts, and who are outraged that so many of books they’ve enjoyed have been challenged by those who think they don’t belong in school and public libraries.
We open each hour-and-a-half meeting by reading the list of challenges to our book in Banned Books: 2007 Resource Guide, a wonderfully comprehensive volume by Robert Doyle (and published by ALA). This opening tradition was the kids’ idea: they love hearing the often-repetitive litany of challenges to books they’ve just read and enjoyed. Reading the challenges helps focus our discussion and inevitably gets us talking about all kinds of important issues, everything from bullying to racism to war. Our discussions are always lively and energetic as club members have strong opinions and love to share them!
Obviously, a Banned Book Club wouldn’t work in every library. But it’s a great way to pull together a group of intellectually-curious kids and read some truly worthwhile books. As the winner of the American Library Association’s 2009 John Phillip Immroth Intellectual Freedom Award, we hope that our Banned Books Club will inspire others to create their own clubs and celebrate the freedom to read.
So this year on Banned Books Week, come on in, check out a banned book and join our celebration of intellectual freedom. And, if you’re a middle-schooler, come join the vibrant discussions at our Banned Books Club!