Thursday, October 13, 2011

Challenging Censorship

September 24th through October 1st was “Banned Books Week,” an annual event during which hundreds of libraries and bookstores in the U.S. draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of banned and challenged books. (A challenge is not about a member of the public or a group of people expressing their dislike of a book; rather, it’s an attempt to have certain books removed from a library or school curriculum, to “protect” others, usually children, from certain ideas and information. A ban is when an organization – e.g., a library – chooses to officially identify a book as one that is harmful to read, and it is removed – or banned.)

The American Library Association (ALA), which tracks challenges to books in schools and libraries, reported nearly 350 challenges in 2010 … and that was just the tip of the iceberg. Seventy to eighty percent of challenged and banned books are never reported, according to the ALA. More than 11,000 books have been challenged since 1982.

Neatorama has published a list of 12 books that have been banned by certain groups in the U.S. They’re pretty astonishing. While I deplore ALL books being banned, in my opinion, the following seven are among the most shocking books to have been banned:

1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury:  A dystopian novel about a future in which people ban and burn books.

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: Banned for the use of the "n" word, despite the fact that Mark Twain used that incendiary word precisely to illustrate how bad it is.

3. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Despite her experiences (and her ultimate fate), the remarkable teenage author still believes in “the basic goodness of mankind.” Banned by the Alabama State Textbook Committee in 1983 for being “a real downer.”

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One of the best books I ever read -- this book was banned because of its use of the “n” word and for “promoting white supremacy.”

5. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. Described as one of “the most banned books of the past decade,” the Harry Potter series was probably the one book series that got kids reading again.

6. Sleeping Beauty. This fairy tale was banned from some libraries “for promoting witchcraft and magic.”

7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Banned for “vulgar language.”

I say, “Read a banned book and celebrate one of our most important freedoms: the right to read.”

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Launched in 1982, in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, “Banned Books Week” is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English and PEN American Center.

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