Happy banned book week!

So this week is banned book week and I wanted to talk a bit about what that is and some books I think would be interesting to read this week. This is your chance to celebrate the freedom of reading.

Banned book week was established in 1982, a reply to the fact that more and more books were being challenged in schools, shops and libraries and the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case, which ruled that a library can’t ban a book simply because of its content. Normally held over the last week of September the week focuses on bringing attention to censorship and why free speech is so important. I understand that there’s some books that may be based around sensitive topics but that doesn’t mean they should be censored. 

At the 1982 American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California banned books were showcased. Banned books were piled in large padlocked cages with signs that cautioned that some people said these books were dangerous. This was of course extremely successful and so ABA invited Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) director Judith Krug to work on Banned Book week with the National Association of College Stores. They quickly put together a news release and press package for the September show dates, hoping that their combined 50,000 members would help boost their message. And it worked! The first week was hugely popular. 

To this day, Banned Books Week coverage by mainstream media reaches an estimated 2.8 billion readers, and more than 90,000 publishing industry and library subscribers. The Banned Books page remains one of the top two most popular pages on the ALA website.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom still offers support for anyone being challenged or facing a ban. This can come in the form of letters, book reviews, resources, talking points or emotional support. You can report censorship here online and find other support. 

The OIF has issued a list of the top 10 most challenged books and I wanted to go through them and look at why they were banned.

George 

By Alex Gino

So what’s it about?

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

And why was it banned/challenged?

Challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out 

by Susan Kuklin

So what’s it about?

A groundbreaking work of LGBT literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens. Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.

And why was it banned/challenged?

challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo

by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller

So what’s it about?

HBO’s Emmy-winning Last Week Tonight with John Oliver presents a picture book about a Very Special boy bunny who falls in love with another boy bunny. Meet Marlon Bundo, a lonely bunny who lives with his Grampa, Mike Pence – the Vice President of the United States. But on this Very Special Day, Marlon’s life is about to change forever… With its message of tolerance and advocacy, this charming children’s book explores issues of same sex marriage and democracy. Sweet, funny, and beautifully illustrated, this book is dedicated to every bunny who has ever felt different. 100% of Last Week Tonight’s proceeds will be donated to The Trevor Project and AIDS United.

And why was it banned/challenged?

Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning. 

Sex is a Funny Word

by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth

So what’s it about?

A comic book for kids that includes children and families of all makeups, orientations, and gender identies, Sex Is a Funny Word is an essential resource about bodies, gender, and sexuality for children ages 8 to 10 as well as their parents and caregivers. Much more than the “facts of life” or “the birds and the bees,” Sex Is a Funny Word opens up conversations between young people and their caregivers in a way that allows adults to convey their values and beliefs while providing information about boundaries, safety, and joy. The eagerly anticipated follow up to Lambda-nominated What Makes a Baby, from sex educator Cory Silverberg and artist Fiona Smyth, Sex Is a Funny Word reimagines “sex talk” for the twenty-first century.

And why was it banned/challenged?

Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate” 

Prince & Knight 

by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis

So what’s it about?

In this modern fairy tale, a noble prince and a brave knight come together to defeat a terrible monster and in the process find true love in a most unexpected place.“Thank you,” he told his parents. “I appreciate that you tried, but I’m looking for something special in a partner by my side.” Once upon a time, in a kingdom far from here, there was a prince in line to take the throne, so his parents set out to find him a kind and worthy bride. The three of them traveled the land far and wide, but the prince didn’t quite find what he was looking for in the princesses they met. While they were away, a terrible dragon threatened their land, and all the soldiers fled. The prince rushed back to save his kingdom from the perilous beast and was met by a brave knight in a suit of brightly shining armor. Together they fought the dragon and discovered that special something the prince was looking for all along. 

And why was it banned/challenged?

Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint. 

I think that it’s so interesting that most of these books are children or young adult books. 

Find ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement here

Check out my last blog post here where I talked about The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home by Joanna Nell and maybe consider subscribing to my newsletter on the right.

Find your local independent bookshop here and check out Abebooks here or Hive to find ones that deliver, shops need your support now more than ever. 

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