In September 1982, the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and the National Association of College Stores, alarmed at the increase in demands to remove books from the shelves of libraries, bookstores, and schools, formed a national coalition to preserve Americans’ “Freedom to Read.” They worked to inform the public that books were being removed from communities. One of the “Freedom to Read” coalition’s efforts was Banned Book Week. It has become an annual event. The 30th Banned Book Week is September 30-October 6, 2012.
2011s most frequently challenged books include a science fiction book written in the 1930s, a coming of age story that deals with racism and imperfect justice, and several young adult books that speak to problems encountered by many teenagers; as well as some “fluff” that has proven effective in encouraging reluctant readers to finish a book.
1) The Internet Girls trilogy, by Lauren Myracle. The books are written as a series of instant messages between three friends. Reviewers have marveled over the depth of the characterization, the clarity of the different voices, and the complexity of the plots.
2) The Color of Earth trilogy, by Kim Dong-hwa, who has been a force in telling stories through comics in Korea since 1975. Kim Dong-hwa has said:
“I think that the process of a girl becoming a woman is one of the biggest mysteries and wonders of life. And when my mother was sleeping in her sickbed, I looked down [at] her wrinkled face…Ehwa, the protagonist of The Color Trilogy, is the result of my tracing back to my mother’s youth.”(excerpt from MacMillan’s [his U.S. publisher’s] website.)
3) The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, is science fiction set in Earth’s future. It has been widely praised for storyline and character development. The books have been on the best of the year lists of Publishers Weekly. A popular movie based on the books was released in 2012.
4) My Mom’s Having a Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler, answers the natural questions that occur to a child who has been told that her mother is going to have a baby. Explicitly. With lovely drawings.
5) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, won numerous awards. It is a coming of age story of a Native American teenager who decides to attend the all-white public high school in a town that is near the reservation. He is treated like an outsider at the school and a traitor at home. His observations on people and society both on and off the reservation are caustic but funny.
6) The Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (the last (28th) book will be published in Fall 2013) follows Alice as she grows up. Author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor said of the series,
“I was thinking how important role models are to young girls. I loved my own mother very much, but I didn’t necessarily want to look like her or dress like her or act like her. I wanted to be my own person, but I wasn’t sure what that person was like. So I started to write a book about such a girl, except that her own mother would be dead, and she would very much be looking for role models. And the plot sort of took off after that.”
7) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, was written in 1931. It was Huxley’s response to the utopian fiction popular at the time. He said that it was inspired by H.G. Wells’ A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923). The utopian novels described a bright future, where scientific advances would free humans from poverty and drudgery. Huxley posited a darker future, one he described as a “negative utopia,” where society works like a well-oiled machine by creating lab-designed humans to fit into predetermined roles. In Brave New World, set in 2540 AD, people are conditioned to focus their energies on working, consuming, and having a good time. The foundation of the society is the population’s rather mindless but happy existence. In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Brave New World 5th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Pfau Library has both Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited. In Brave New World Revisited (1959) Huxley examines the trajectory of western society in the almost 30 years since the publication of Brave New World. He concludes that we will realize his dystopian vision well before 2540 AD.
8) What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones, weaves the story of fourteen year old Sophie. The story is told in Sophie’s voice, through a series of poems. It was recommended on the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers lists.
9) The Gossip Girl series, by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar is the first book of an eleven-book series. It is the book that inspired the TV show Gossip Girls. The publisher described it as “a junior Sex and the City.”
The reviews? Well, Publishers Weekly summarized the series with:
“At a New York City jet-set private school populated by hard-drinking, bulimic, love-starved poor little rich kids, a clique of horrible people behave badly to one another.”
Still, even books with bad reviews can be entertaining, and the books in this series are so popular that the American Library Association has recommended them for reluctant readers.
10) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a coming of age story about a young girl in the segregated south. It was first published in 1960. The book won the Pulitzer Prize, the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and numerous other honors.
To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies. A 1991 Library of Congress survey found that people rated To Kill a Mockingbird second (right behind the Holy Bible) as the book that made a difference in their lives.
On November 5, 2007 Harper Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for authoring To Kill a Mockingbird. At that ceremony President George W. Bush stated, in part:
“This daughter of Monroeville, Alabama had something to say about honor, and tolerance, and, most of all, love – and it still resonates…To Kill a Mockingbird has influenced the character of our country for the better. It’s been a gift to the entire world. As a model of good writing and humane sensibility, this book will be read and studied forever.”
This year Bill and Judith Moyers are Honorary Chairs for Banned Book Week. You will find Bill Moyers’ video essay on book banning and the evils of censorship at BannedBooksWeek.org. Be sure to visit the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week page for more information, including a timeline of 30 years of banned books.
There will be a Banned Books exhibit in Pfau Library Special Collections (PL4005) from September 30-October 15.