From classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to the Harry Potter series, the list of books frequently challenged and banned includes many esteemed titles. Each year during Banned Books Week, librarians are called upon to confront the practice of censoring children’s literature. The annual event, started in 1982, offers the perfect opportunity to teach kids and their families about intellectual freedom and individual American's right to freely access information. Explore this book list of some of the most frequently challenged book titles.
When Books Are Challenged
Questioning whether certain books are appropriate for children is reasonable; some books just are too mature or difficult for some young readers. It’s important to listen to parents’ concerns and be prepared to guide kids who come to the library.
Our desire to protect children, however, should not come at the risk of jeopardizing young readers’ First Amendment rights. As the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights states, a person's use of the library may not be restricted or limited because of age.
Keep these tips in mind as you strive to simultaneously safeguard children and their intellectual freedom:
- Expect challenges. Have a policy in place for handling challenged material. The policy should re-assert the library's commitment to presenting as many perspectives on as many topics as possible, unrestricted by partisan or personal biases. It should clearly outline the challenge process. The ALA offers guidelines and templates for drafting policies so you’ll be prepared in case a situation arises.
- Respect challenges. Part of intellectual freedom is respecting every person's right to challenge material in the library's collection. Challenges can even be beneficial to a collection: some material, outdated and inaccurate, should to be re-examined; valuable material will stand up to a fair challenge.
- Work with parents. Collaborate, listen to concerns, and create a safe yet open space for children to explore information and ideas in the library. Demonstrate how critical thinking, discussion, and debate are great protectors that help children become lifelong learners able to evaluate information independently, responsibly, and safely.
- Teach from history. Take time during Banned Books Week to explain to children the history of censorship and intellectual freedom. Call attention to familiar and beloved titles, using them to start discussions with kids and their families. Focus on topics such as freedom of thought and speech, the power of books and information, the promise of libraries, and the inseparability of intellectual freedom and democracy.
Celebrate Your Freedom to Read
Use the theme of Banned Books Week — Celebrate Your Freedom to Read — to get kids thinking about the value of plurality, diverse ideas, and the civic responsibility that goes along with these freedoms. Here are some ways to make the event fun for kids:
- Create flyers, posters, and stickers to get the word out and generate excitement!
- Display famously challenged books such as In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Set up a message box where readers can submit notes with their thoughts about the titles and why they are valuable to readers. Add the messages to your display.
- Give booktalks on favorite banned books — include where and why they were challenged, and explain what came of the challenges.
- Host a family book group centered around a title that has been banned or challenged. Use the opportunity to consider what makes ideas threatening to people and the importance of intellectual freedom in a democracy. Discuss alternatives to censorship.
- Lead a discussion about citizens’ rights under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
- Invite kids and adults to come to a celebration dressed as their favorite banned-book character — don’t forget to don your own outfit!
- Create a trivia contest that focuses on titles that promote diversity and use it to generate interest in books kids may not be familiar with.
- Teach a class on media literacy to show children and young adults how to analyze and evaluate the information they encounter.
As a librarian, you play a vital role in informing children and young adults of their First Amendment rights and ensuring that these rights are protected and maintained in the library. Show young readers how to enjoy freedom — encourage them to read something new this week!
Additional Resources for Banned Book Week
Get lists of frequently banned books, free downloadable graphics, activity ideas to raise awareness, and answers to common questions about libraries, censorship, and the American Library Association's positions on the issues.
The American Library Association shares tips on how to make intellectual freedom a focus of your library.