Banned Books Week: Celebrating Your (and Your Teens!) Freedom to Read

By Petrilli, Ken | Young Adult Library Services, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview
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Banned Books Week: Celebrating Your (and Your Teens!) Freedom to Read


Petrilli, Ken, Young Adult Library Services


Each year for a week in September, the eyes and ears of the library world turn toward one of the more prevalent issues that face libraries and librarians every day--the issue of intellectual freedom. This week is Banned Books Week, observed this year September 26 to October 3.

For those not familiar with this event, here's a bit of background. Banned Books Week is observed the last week of September each year, and has been observed every year since 1982, after many inside the profession noticed a great surge in the number of book challenges in the United States. The event is jointly sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association (ALA), the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, and the National Association of College Stores,

Why take the time to celebrate Banned Books Week? As teen and young adult librarians, we are on the front lines of intellectual freedom issues more than anyone else in our profession. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at the list of the ten most challenged books of 2007, according to ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF):

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

3. Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes

4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle

8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

9. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Any of these titles look familiar? I would think so; it is safe to say that at least seven of these books are in many YA collections across the country.

For the most part, challenges to these (and many other) books are issued by parents concerned about what their children are reading. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing; we want to see parents who are concerned! What we don't want is that concern turning to outright fear. As Judy Blume so eloquently pointed out,

"I believe that censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children's lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don't read about it, their children won't know about it. And if they don't know about it, it won't happen." (1)

I think it is important for us to remember not to overtly demonize most potential challengers. They are, after all, people just like us, and being concerned for our children's well-being is never wrong. Lauren Myracle, an author whose books are frequently challenged, spoke beautifully about this very notion when she spoke in Denver this past January at the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF)'s author event. She responds to every angry and outraged e-mail she gets from parents, and many times finds that they are not quite as angry at her as it might, at first, seem (see link under "Resources" for the entire speech). At the same time, never forget that potential challengers are out there, and some are motivated by fervent religious or political beliefs. They are often highly organized and have the time and resources to back their agenda. Remember that having a clear and well-written collection development policy goes a long way towards deflecting most challenges.

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