Banned Books Week, an event coordinated by the American Library Association (ALA), celebrates the fundamental value of free and open access to all information. This annual event was started in 1982 as a direct response to the increasing number of books being challenged nationally in schools, bookstores, and libraries.
Every year sees more-and-more highly acclaimed novels, memoirs, and children’s books falling prey to censorship by being placed on the blacklist of challenged or banned books. This is not a new issue; books have been challenged, banned, censored, and even burned for years. Yet, many of the books that are most frequently challenged are those that remain beloved by the general public.
But what exactly does it mean for a book to be banned or challenged?
The American Library Association is required to compile an annual list of challenged or banned books based on the written reports submitted by librarians and schoolteachers from across the nation.
According to the American Library Association, a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict a book based upon the objections of an individual or a group or people. A successful challenge results in a banning.
In order for a book to be included in this annual list, an individual must file a written complaint with a library or school requesting that materials be removed on the basis of inappropriate content. All challenges and bans are reported by the schools and libraries to the American Library Association.
So what kinds of books are banned or challenged?
See if you recognize any of the following examples of challenged and banned books (some of my personal favorites), they may surprise you:
To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
by Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird is set in a small Alabama town during the 1930s. It is the tragic story depicting the wrongful trial and death of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. The town, swayed by just the accuser’s testimony, immediately views Robinson as guilty and seeks vengeance and retribution, with the single exception of Robinson’s white lawyer Atticus Finch.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most popular novels associated with the issues of racism and prejudice in American society. This classic received immediate praise, as the novel was the 1961 Pulitzer Prize winner before it was then adapted into an Academy-Award winning film in 1962.
Though Lee’s novel was initially well-received and still is widely praised, it continues to be one of the most frequent recurrences on the challenged and banned book list. Many people find the explicit language, racial slurs, and even the racial themes offending. However, To Kill a Mockingbird has an important message; Lee explicitly demonstrates the roots and consequences of the prevailing racial prejudice of the South.
by George Orwell
1984 is a dystopian novel written by the renowned author George Orwell. This thrilling classic brings out into the dystopian society of Oceania where citizens are under the constant surveillance of the Party (the omnipresent government), the Party’s leader Big Brother, and his minions the Thought Police (who discover and punish thought crimes). 1984 follows the store of William Smith, a member of the middle class of the Outer Party in Oceania, as he secretly opposes the Party’s rule and continues to dream of rebelling against this totalitarianism government.
1984 remains a classic that is widely appreciated, especially due to the dystopian setting that remains popular today. Many terms from the novel – Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime – have infiltrated pop culture.
Yet, according to a Time article, 1984 rests alongside the titles of other great classics in the American Library Association’s list of commonly challenged books. Some of the most common challenges and concerns about 1984 are in regards to the novel’s bleak warning of totalitarian censorship and its supposed pro-communist content.
The Lorax (1971)
by Dr. Seuss
One of the most beloved of all children’s books, The Lorax is a beautifully crafted and illustrated story about the necessity of environmental awareness. Dr. Seuss gives a voice to the trees and the environment through the lovable character of the Lorax: “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees” (The Lorax). The book’s illustrations and story give children a clear picture of the plight of the environment and the potential dangers of disrespecting the environment. The Lorax teaches young readers about mankind’s responsibility to protect to protect and respect nature.
The Lorax is not a frequent victim of challenges. However, this children’s book favorite has been banned on the premise that the book outwardly attacks the foresting industry, as people challenged Dr. Seuss’s prominent anti-deforesting message.
“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
– The Lorax (The Lorax)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
by L. Frank Baum
The classic children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by L. Frank Baum is set in the magical realm of the Land of Oz. The story follows Dorothy’s adventures as she forms friendships on her road back to Kansas. It is a touching tale about the strengths of loyalty, friendship, helping others, and continuing down one’s path in life with the support of family and friends regardless of the obstacles standing in the way.
This classic has been adapted into the 1902 Broadway musical as well as the iconic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. Although the book has been highly successful and is still a cherished classic, it was once banned from all libraries in Chigaco, Illinois, due to the female protagonist being portrayed in a strong leadership role.
Why Celebrate Banned Books Week?
Banned Books Week remembers countless authors’ voices which are thrown by the wayside as libraries and schools restrict or deny access to their stories. By taking the time to appreciate and remember some of these banned or challenged works, we are honoring the efforts of authors who painstakingly communicate difficult and relevant ideas through their stories.