Banned Books Week - 30th Anniversary

This week, the American Library Association ( along with libraries, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers (including the National Council of Teachers of English), communities, and bloggers will celebrate the freedom to read and the value of open access to information. For the second year, Banned Books Week is hosting a Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out with a channel onYouTube. Individuals, or groups may create short videos to submit for BBW Virtual Read Out Channel as a way of acknowledging everyone’s right to access books and information.

If you are wondering about what books have been challenged or banned, ALA has several lists on their site. Check out their list of frequently Banned or Challenged Classics or the 100 Most Banned/Challenged Books by decade, you just may be surprised what’s on the list.

Books are frequently challenged due to content that may be perceived as offensive or objectionable. Reasons for challenging books have included material that addressed issues of racism, sexual orientation, violence, offensive language, drug use, sexual activity or pregnancy in teens, death (in books for younger children), witchcraft/sorcery/magic, certain religious themes, and more.

Many books that are challenged have been books that are often well written and contain powerful messages. Often times, it is just the message a student or students need to hear. A few year’s ago, Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak about one girl’s experience of date rape was once again challenged by a school board in Oklahoma. Authors, publishers, book bloggers quickly stepped up in support of this book. What was most powerful to me during this time was the number of stories of teen girls who had found their voice to “speak” out about what they had experienced after reading this book. A book can validate an experience or help a student confront a difficult issue when they might not know where to turn. If a book is challenged, read it for yourself and make up your own mind.  Don't let others make up your mind for you.

Some tips to think about when sharing potentially controversial books with students…

1. Know you students and their families – Not every book is for every child.
2. Create a “rule of thumb” for books that you know will be controversial – I might ask a parent a specific question that will guide my recommendation.
3. Discuss content with students – I have had open discussion with students about why an author has chosen a particular word or portrayed an incident in a certain manner in a book.
4. Be aware of any school district policies or complaint procedures for challenging the use of a book.

Check out the lists above and join in this week by reading or re-reading a banned or challenged book!