Banned Books Week: Spotlight on Diversity

The American Library Association this week announced the dates and theme of its annual celebration of "banned books," noting that in recent years there has been a spike in challenges to books which feature "diverse content." Which is a remarkably broad category, including literature tackling LBGT issues, having non-white main characters, and books not set in North America or Europe.

When I was about 10 years old, my mother gave me this button to wear, and so the week has always meant something to me. But as I look at the list of books most-challenged in recent years, few are familiar. Which makes sense, because most of the challenges are coming in relation to school libraries and I don't read a lot of children's lit these days.

An older list of challenged books up to 1999 is much more familiar to me, and I've read a couple dozen from it. Here are the top-10 challenged works from 1990-1999:

  1. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
  2. Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  4. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  6. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  7. Forever, by Judy Blume
  8. Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
  9. Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman
  10. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Compare that with the most-challenged list from 2014:

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
2. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
3. And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
4. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
5. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
6. Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
7. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
9. A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard
10. Drama, by Raina Telgemeier

From that list, I've only read The Blyest Eye. And as the L.A. Times Points out, you may as well call Banned Books Week "Toni Morrison Week" because her work so frequently faces challenges and has made lists in many years.

“It’s alarming to see so many diverse voices facing censorship,” said Charles Brownstein, chair of the Banned Books Week Coalition. “2016’s Banned Books Week is an important moment for communities to join together in affirming the value of diverse ideas and multiple viewpoints. By shining a light on how these ideas are censored, we hope to encourage opportunities to create engagement and understanding within our communities, and to emphasize the fundamental importance of the freedom to read.”

For more on the Banned Books Coalition and annual Week, check out the group's web site.

Posted on February 25, 2016 and filed under Books.