This week marks the American Library Association’s 35th annual Banned Books Week, with the theme of “Words Have Power. Read a Banned Book.” Each year, the ALA releases a list of the year’s most challenged books, while also highlighting the history of challenging and banning books throughout the United States. Though this practice is not as prevalent as it once was, nearly 11,000 challenges are reported to the ALA each year, and it’s estimated that between 82% and 97% of book challenges go unreported each year.
Wait, this is Banned Books Week. So, what is a challenge, and is it different from a ban?
There is a difference between a challenge and a ban, and that difference is important. According to the ALA, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.” Though tens of thousands of challenges may happen each year (in fact, there was a reported 17% increase in book censorship complaints just last year), many people, including librarians, parents, teachers, and other community members, work to prevent books from being removed, or banned, from schools and libraries.
Who challenges books, and why?
Anyone can challenge a book, simply by requesting that the book be removed from the library or classroom. Nearly half of all reported challenges are made by parents, one-third are made by patrons to the library, and the rest are made by others including librarians, teachers, the government, and political or religious groups. There are many reasons that people request books be removed from circulation including mature or violent subject matter, or explicit, offensive, or derogatory language.
What books have been banned?
Hundreds of books have been both challenged and banned, and the ALA keeps lists of some of the most commonly challenged books here. Some recently challenged books include Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, And Tango Makes Three, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the Harry Potter series, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. If you’re interested in reading books that have been challenged or banned, you can look for these books at your local libraries, bookstores, or online stores, or start or join a banned books book club. Additionally, Google is making books available for free online through its Library Project, so look there to see if you can find some more reading inspiration.
Why is Banned Books Week recognized each year?
Each year, the ALA designates the last week in September, which is Literacy Month, as Banned Books Week to celebrate literacy and the freedom to read. And year after year, libraries and bookstores throughout the country create displays highlighting challenged and banned books to share their support of “the freedom to seek, to publish, to read, and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Celebrating literacy is important, even today, because though 750 million adults throughout the world were illiterate as of 2016, international literacy rates have steadily grown in the past 30 years. The importance of literacy cannot be overstated, as research has shown that if students cannot read proficiently by the time they reach 4th grade, they are 4 times more likely to drop out of school. Reading also offers more than just education and opportunity; reading can provide a sense of belonging and comfort; it can share different perspectives to help people become more well-informed; and it can help to grow empathy.
If you’d like you learn more about early literacy, read this post. For more information on helping students learn to enjoy reading, check out this post. And if you’re interested in incorporating digital literacy into your classrooms, check out Edgenuity’s® online learning solutions to learn more about how online and blended learning can help your students succeed.