The American Library Association (ALA) is celebrating its 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week this year, and we at NPL have been celebrating this milestone all month! The history of book banning in schools and libraries spans much longer than 30 years, needless to say, and it deserves this kind of special attention. Before we cry victory, however, we should acknowledge that censorship still exists.
Though books may not be banned from school and library collections quite as frequently as in decades past, the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) continues to track and receive hundreds of book challenges every year. Within the school and library context, these challenges come from parents and patrons as well as teachers and librarians. Reasons run the gamut from sex, violence, and language to a generic “unsuitable for age group” to “poor literary merit.”
Think about it: have you ever refrained from recommending a book because you thought it would be “unsuitable” for someone? Have you ever doubted a book’s place on library shelves? Consider these titles – both classics and more modern works – that continue to end up on the OIF’s list of challenged books. What are they worth to you?
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina and quiet heroism of one man’s struggle for justice in this Pulitzer Prize-winning classic that has been translated into more than 40 languages. Reason: “Racism” and “language.”
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald : Jay Gatsby had once loved beautiful, spoiled Daisy Buchanan, then lost her to a rich boy. Now, mysteriously wealthy, he is ready to risk everything to woo her back. Reason: “Language” and “sexual references.”
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: In an effort to escape the hypocrisies of life at his boarding school, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield seeks refuge in New York City. Reason: “Obscene” and “undermines morality.”
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck : The migration of the Joad family to California from their dust-bowl farm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Reason: “Profane” and “contains the phrase ‘god damn.'”
- 1984 by George Orwell: Portrays a terrifying vision of life in the future when a totalitarian government, considered a “Negative Utopia,” watches over all citizens and directs all activities, becoming more powerful as time goes by. Reason: “Pro-communist” and contains “sexually explicit matter.
- Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling : Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School for Wizards and Witches. Reason: “Occult/satanic” and “promotes Wicca religion.”
- Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins: In a future North America, where the rulers of Panem maintain control through an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss’s skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place. Reason: “Anti-family” and “occult/satanic.”
- The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler : Feeling like she does not fit in with the other members of her family, who are all thin, brilliant, and good-looking, fifteen-year-old Virginia tries to deal with her self-image, her first physical relationship, and her disillusionment with some of the people closest to her. Reason: “Offensive language” and “unsuited to age group.”
- The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: The spirit of fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon describes her murder, her surprise at her new home in heaven, and her witness to her family’s grief, efforts to find the killer, and attempts to come to terms with what has happened. Reason: “Violence” and “unsuited to age group.”
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle : Meg Murry and her friends become involved with unearthly strangers and a search for Meg’s father, who has disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government. Reason: “Undermines religious belief” and “too difficult for children.”
Forge on, brave readers!