Celebrate Your Freedom to Read - Banned Books Week

Every year I create a “Celebrate Your Freedom to Read” display at the library for Banned Books Week, and every year I hear the same incredulous responses: “This book was banned? Why?” Many books we consider classics were at some point challenged and/or removed from public access. Content as seemingly innocuous as females in leadership roles (The Wizard of Oz) or talking animals (Winnie the Pooh) have been deemed offensive and occasionally resulted in popular books being withheld.

Libraries across the country see Banned Books Week as an opportunity to celebrate our commitment to providing free and open access to information. Public libraries strive to facilitate access to diverse viewpoints and ideas. Sometimes we are not beyond enticing reluctant readers to open a book by reminding them that we now have the privilege of choosing to read books which were once branded forbidden fruit.

My earliest memory of book censorship involves Maurice Sendak’s picture book In the Night Kitchen, which was challenged during my childhood, because the tyke in the story “falls out of his clothes” during his adventure. Hearing of this controversy made me want to check out the book; I was chagrinned to find that my local public library had “solved” the problem by painting diapers on the little boy, marring the Caldecott Honor illustrations.

While perusing lists of challenged books, I’m always freshly surprised to see so many personal favorites. I adored Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson as a tween because of the strong imaginative friendship between two main characters. The plot involves the death of a central character; this appears to be the content most often objected to. However, like many tween readers, I loved Paterson’s books precisely because the of “real life” problems that made the stories more realistic and meaningful.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom maintains a list of the most frequently challenged books for each year. Visit the ALA website for the 2014 list of frequently challenged books, including the reasons usually cited for objecting to the content. There is also a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books by decade. See how many of your favorites – or not-so-favorites – made the lists! Banned Books Week runs from September 27 through October 3 this year. 

-Suzanne LaPierre, Kings Park Library

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