Everyone has the opportunity to stand up for something in this world. If you read, you can register a clear message simply by reading a book on the Banned Book Week List, which supports freedom of expression.
Every year, the American Library Association celebrates Banned Book Week the last week in September, and it’s a big event in my school library.
Here are some of my favourites that made the latest list for banned or challenged books as reported in the Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy, The Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, the New York Times and other sources.
1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Admittedly Hosseini’s books are almost too painful to read, but they are important for showing the pain and beauty of Afghanistan’s history. They have been banned in Afghanistan.
2. Beloved by Toni Morrison: the Nobel laureate’s brilliant magical-realism novel is loosely based on the story of Margaret Garner, a slave who escaped Kentucky in late January 1856 by fleeing to Cincinnati, Ohio, a free state. Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, and was a finalist for the 1987 National Book Award. It is often banned because the main character commits infanticide.
3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: A perennial favourite for banned-book lists, Twain’s novel about a runaway boy and his relationship with a runaway slave has been on some lists since 1885, the year after its release. The common complaint is the use of the N-word. In 1885 it was deemed “trash and suitable only for the slums” when it was banned in Concord, Massachusetts.
4. The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter: This is one of my favourites. The true story of a librarian who works with her community to sneaks books out of the Basra library during the US bombings in Iraq until they could be returned safely to a new library, it was challenged this year in some US schools because parents believe the book is inappropriate for promoting a religion that is not Christianity. Critics claim it promotes “the Koran and praying to Muhammad.”
5. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: Banned from a Texas library for being “vulgar,” “complete garbage trash,” and “filled with sexual content and profanity,” this collection of short stories about a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War, published in 1990, received multiple awards such as France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, as well as being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award.
6. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko: This popular satire was challenged on the New York state elementary and middle-school reading lists in 2015 because complainants said it “perpetuates negative stereotypes by touting the infamous gangster Al Capone.” Two sequels in Choldenko’s Tales from Alcatraz novels were also challenged: Al Capone Shines My Shoes and Al Capone Does My Homework.
The notorious gangster Al Capone was a prisoner at Alcatraz from 1935 to 1939. Al Capone Does My Shirts was named a Newbery Honor selection and an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book. In 2007 it received the California Young Reader Medal.
We take reading the books we want to read for granted, but there are many people in this world who don’t have that choice. We support keeping good literature in print every time we read a banned or challenged book.