Banned Books Week is an annual awareness campaign that draws attention to banned and challenged books. The original purpose of the week was to encourage and promote intellectual freedom in schools, libraries, and bookstores and to encourage readers to examine why literary works are challenged. Since its creation, schools, libraries, educators, authors, publishers, and readers come together to support the freedom to read and express ideas.
Banned Books Week was founded in 1982 by librarian Judith Krug. Krug was encouraged by the Association of American Publishers to create Banned Books Week after many books had been banned that year.
Book bans and challenges have occurred throughout recent history for a variety of reasons.
What is a Challenged Book?
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict access to materials. Groups or individuals challenge books for a variety for reasons. Children and young adult books are most frequently challenged by those who find certain subject matters inappropriate for younger audiences. Violence, language, and sexuality are some of the most common reasons for challenges.
Most public libraries select materials based on a collection development plan that outlines what types of materials can be selected to be added to the collection. They also provide the community with a process to submit books for re-evaluation, often called a Request for Consideration.
What is Book Ban?
A book ban is limiting or restricting the access to reading material from public institutions like schools or libraires in response to a challenge. A book does not have to be removed nationwide to be considered banned. Book bans are usually imposed at local level by a school district, library, or even a state, in some circumstances. Bans are often not permanent, and sometimes items return to the collection after further review at a later point in time.
Books have been and continue to be banned and challenged. As a result, Banned Books Week will continue to bring awareness to the ideals of intellectual freedom and access to information for all.
Here is a list of banned books that might surprise you.
Banned from classrooms in Kansas in 2006 by a parent’s group because they considered talking animals to be sacrilegious and disrespectful to God.
Banned by Texas Board of Education in 2010 because the author was mistaken for a Marxist author with the same name.
Numerous bans, most recently in 1999 in a Texas elementary school for including the word “ass” and in Wisconsin (also 1999) for the depiction of a spider licking her lips in a way that could be interpreted as sexual.
Banned at a school in New Hampshire in 1996 because a female character dresses like man.
One of the most frequently challenged books in the US due to themes of rape and the use of profanity and racial slurs. Banned from classrooms in 2017 in Biloxi, MS, and in 2018 in Duluth, MN.
Between 1986 and 2000, at least nine different attempts to remove The Catcher in the Rye from schools were based on the novel’s use of profanity and sexual references. Three of these attempts (Wyoming in 1986, North Dakota in 1987, and 1989 in California) were successful in getting the book removed.
Numerous challenges since its first publication in 1931. Has been banned in public schools in Maryland, Missouri, Oklahoma, California, Alabama, Texas, Indiana, and Delaware for obscenity and vulgarity. Is the third most challenged book according to the ALA’s 2010 list of most challenged books.
Series often challenged for scatological humor, offensive language, violence, and lack of respect for authority. This title in particular was banned by an Elementary School in Michigan in 2015 for depicting a same sex couple.
Banned at a school in Ohio in 1972 for profane and inappropriate language. Returned to the shelves four years later after a group of students appealed the district’s decision in the court case Minarcini v. Strongsville City School District.
Challenged in 1985 (FL), 1990 (AL), and 1996 (NC) for opposing Christian beliefs and teaching occult practices and for (1996) lumping Jesus Christ together with other great artists, philosophers, and scientists.
Has gone through 18 banning attempts since first being published in 1969. Challenges most frequently cite obscene language, depictions of sexual acts, lack of patriotism, and mentions of homosexuality. One of the best-known attempts to ban Slaughterhouse-Five happened in 1982, when Island Trees Union Free Public School District removed a selection of books, including Slaughterhouse-Five, from junior high and high school libraries for being “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy.” The appeals made it to the Supreme Court, where it was upheld that the school could not remove the book from libraries under the First Amendment.
The most common reasons for banning the book are religious objections, homosexuality, violence, rape, incest, drug abuse, explicit language, and sexual scenes. Was banned from all Texas State Prisons in 2017 for explicit language and graphic depictions of violence.
The most serious attempt at censorship of Brideshead Revisited in America came in 2005, sixty years after the book had been published. The 2005 legislation proposed by Alabama Representative Gerald Allen aimed to perpetuate faith and morals among young people, as well as to shelter them. The legislation would prevent the allocation and use of public funding for “purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.”
Most often challenged for depictions of sexual violence. The novel was banned in 1976 in Aurora, Colorado, in 1977 in Westport, Connecticut, and in 1982 in Anniston, Alabama. As recently as 2019, members of the Florida Citizens Alliance have lobbied to ban the book.
Frequently challenged for its portrayal of religion and its frank discussions of puberty and sexuality. well-known banning attempts include being removed from elementary school libraries in Gilbert, Arizona in 1980.
The novel has a long history of challenges and was even one of the ALA’s top 100 novels of the 20th century to be banned or challenged. It was first challenged in Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District in 1980 for being a “filthy, trashy sex novel.” Interestingly, there is no explicit description of sex in the novel, nor is there any implicit reference to any sexual activity occurring behind the scenes. There is neither a single woman in the entire novel nor any implication of homoerotic elements on the part of the author.
The text appears on the ALA’s most challenged books list of 1990-1999. Most frequently, these challenges stem from the parts of the novel in which Charlie wrestles with the understanding and expression of his sexual desires. Depictions of sexual encounters with Charlie’s former teacher Alice, and Fay, a free-spirited next-door neighbor of his, have led to a plethora of objections from concerned parents comparing the book to pornography in rare cases. While largely unsuccessful for the most part, in some cases these challenges have led to bans. Cities such as Emporium, Pennsylvania, Glen Rose, Arkansas, and Plant City, Florida have all prohibited access in schools throughout the novel’s lifespan.
Although Bridge To Terabithia has been introduced, read, and studied in many schools, it has still been challenged by parents and school boards. There were questions concerning the use of “Lord”, suggestions of witchcraft, and the encouragement of elaborate fantasy worlds which could “lead to confusion”. Bridge To Terabithia has stayed in the top 100 banned/challenged books since its publication.
Fahrenheit 451 has faced multiple censorship and banning attempts throughout the years. Most recently in 2006 the novel was challenged in Texas for going against religious beliefs because a Bible was banned and burned in the story.
The Canterbury Tales was once banned in the United States by the U.S. Postal Service. It refused to mail copies under the Comstock Act of 1873, stating that the work contained obscene, filthy, and inappropriate material.
Banned from all libraries and schools in Kern County, California (where the book is set) in 1939 because the county board of supervisors felt that Steinbeck had been unfair in his depiction of the community.
Declared non-mailable by the U.S. Post Office (1940, under Comstock Act of 1873)
Banned, but later reinstated after community protests at the Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, GA (2000). The controversy began in early 1999 when a parent complained about sex, violence, and profanity in the book that was part of an Advanced Placement English Class.
Banned in Cedar Lake, Indiana; Eldon, Missouri; Folsom, California; and Churchill County, Nevada in 1976, 1977, 1982, and 1992, respectively, for including alternative or slang meanings for words that were deemed offensive, including: ass, ball, bed, knocker, nut, and tail. (AHD)
Pulled from the shelves in Menifee Union School District (CA) for including the term ‘oral sex’ in 2010. (MWCD)
25. The Bible
Banned at Utah elementary and middle schools in Salt Lake City for ‘vulgarity or violence’. Temporarily pulled from school shelves in Keller, Texas in 2022.
Banned in Tarzana, CA in 1930’s because Tarzan and Jane weren’t married.
American Library Association. “Banned & Challenged Classics.” Advocacy, Legislation & Issues, 26 Mar. 2013, www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics.
“Banned Books Home.” Marshall Libraries, Marshall University, 23 Aug. 2023, www.marshall.edu/library/bannedbooks/.
David Reamer. “Was a Dictionary Really Banned in Anchorage? Here’s the Real Story of How the Book Was Outlawed in Schools.” Anchorage Daily News, 25 Sept. 2022, www.adn.com/alaska-life/2022/09/25/was-a-dictionary-really-banned-in-an…. Accessed 14 Sept. 2023.
Lopez, Brian. “Keller School Officials Order 41 Books — Including the Bible and an Anne Frank Adaptation — off of Library Shelves.” The Texas Tribune, 16 Aug. 2022, www.texastribune.org/2022/08/16/keller-isd-removes-books/. Accessed 14 Sept. 2023.
Sam, Metz. “Utah District Bans Bible in Elementary and Middle Schools “due to Vulgarity or Violence.”” AP News, Associated Press, 2 June 2023, apnews.com/article/book-ban-school-library-bible-fc025c8ccf30e955aaf0b0ee1899608a#:~:text=The%20Bible%20has%20long%20found. Accessed 14 Sept. 2023.
The Banned Books Project. “Directory of Banned Books – the Banned Books Project.” Cmu.edu, Carnegie Mellon University, 2022, bannedbooks.library.cmu.edu/directory-of-books/.
Theara, Coleman. “21 of America’s Most Surprising Banned Books.” The Week, 2023, theweek.com/articles/459795/america-surprising-banned-books.