Yesterday marked the beginning of Banned Books Week, a week that aims to celebrate the freedom of literary expression. Book censorship is a rising problem in the United States, with the American Library Association reporting an “unprecedented” number of book challenges, as well as The New York Timesdictating in January that “parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades.” For whatever the reason, there has been a consistent rise in censorship attempts; Banned Books Week is an effort to both raise awareness in opposition to these attacks on literary freedom and to celebrate the books that have been targeted. I hope to lay out a brief history of book censorship, especially in the United States, to provide context as to why this week is so critical.
ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks attempts to ban or restrict access to books. More than 273 titles were challenged or banned in 2020, with increasing demands to remove books that address racism and racial justice or those that shared the stories of Black, Indigenous, or people of color. As with previous years, LGBTQ+ content also dominated the list.
Banned Books Week was launched in the 1980s, a time of increased challenges, organized protests, and the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content.
While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.
Reasons: for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin | print / digital
Reasons: 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 | print / digital
Reasons: 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 | print / digital
Reasons: 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 | print
Reasons: 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 Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas | print
Reasons: LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”