Every year, libraries and bookstores band together to host events for Banned Books Week – a week-long event designed to draw attention to the thousands of books banned by schools across America. Publishers, journalists, librarians, booksellers, teachers and students spend the last week of every September celebrating the freedom to read and exploring the harm of censorship.
Banned Books Week emerged in 1982 after an extraordinary increase in the number of books being challenged in schools and libraries. Judith Krug, a library and First Amendment activist, started the movement to promote the importance of leaving influential literature available to the public. Since 1982, over 11,000 books have been challenged, making it a very relevant issue to readers around the world.
Censorship is controversial, and although we can all agree that “50 Shades of Grey” shouldn’t be available for checkout at elementary schools, some of the books that have been challenged throughout the years might surprise you. For example, in 1986, seven families filed a lawsuit to bring “The Wizard of Oz” out of public schools because it promotes promoting the belief that “essential human attributes were individually developed rather than God-given.” In 2006, a group of parents tried to remove “Charlotte’s Web” from a Kansas school district because “talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural.” Dozens of classics traditionally taught in public high schools have been repeatedly challenged for decades, including: “The Great Gatsby,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men,” “1984” and “The Catcher in the Rye”. Read more about the various attempts and reasoning to ban classic novels.
Dedicated readers from all over gravitate to local gatherings and talk about how literature has shaped today’s youth, often reading powerful excerpts from frequently-challenged novels. Supporters of the cause discuss ways to limit censorship and prevent these books from being held away from students and shoppers.
Amnesty International also celebrates Banned Books Week, focusing on human rights violations around the world that have taken place as a result of persecutions due to writing, reading or distributing wrongfully-banned material. The event urges people to take action by protesting the murder, incarceration and harassment that has taken place throughout the years.
For more than two decades, Banned Books Week has been influential in protecting the First Amendment and keeping historic novels in schools. There are a number of things you can do to be involved. Look into supporting the ALS and participating in the Virtual Read-Out. Check out this page for events at a bookstore or library near you, and use these resources to plan an event for next year’s Banned Books Week.