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Celebrating Banned Books During Banned Books Week

Especially those that have been challenged over and over through the years

By Karen DeGroot Carter • September 27, 2020

As Banned Books Week 2020 begins, many readers will see references in their news and social media feeds about this annual effort to promote the right to read. Since its launch in 1982, Banned Books Week has helped raise awareness of the many literary works that have been banned and/or challenged by individuals and groups across the U.S. through the years. It also encourages readers to read and promote these books as well as the right to read.

The 2018 ThriftBooks blog post "In Honor of Banned Books Week, Let's Ban Banning Books Once and For All," explains that while challenging a book means to "attempt to remove or restrict" it "based on the objections of a person or group," banning a book means to physically remove it from a school or library.

The Usual Suspects

While many readers may be aware that books such as those in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and classics such as The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Animal Farm by George Orwell, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee have been targeted in the past, many are also surprised to learn seemingly innocent reads like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon have also been banned or challenged.

Each year in late September the Banned and Challenged Books Website, a project of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, updates its Top 10 Most Challenged Books Lists. With information dating back to 1990 and specific lists dating back to 2001, this collection provides an insightful look at the titles and topics American censors have deemed inappropriate through the years and tried to keep out of the hands of readers. The books most often targeted over the past 20 years include:

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, widely acclaimed for its beautiful writing and depiction of personal drama against the backdrop of war in Afghanistan.

Looking for Alaska by John Green, a young adult novel that deals with grief as well as coming-of-age issues and was awarded the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award from the ALA.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, which tells the story of a teenager who lives on a reservation and decides to go to a public high school off the reservation.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, the story of a teen trying to navigate his young adult years in the early 1990s in a town outside Pittsburgh.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, published in 1974, which explores the challenges of high school at a Catholic school where a secret society organizes a movement against a student who doesn't fit in.

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones, an acclaimed novel about surviving freshman year in high school that has been translated into multiple languages and won numerous awards.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel that explores the challenges of being a middle school theater student through the point of view of a theater-loving seventh grader.

The Captain Underpants Series by Dav Pilkey (the one series of books my son loved even after he'd decided reading wasn't fun anymore), which uses humor, sassy language, and bright graphics to keep kids entertained.

George by Alex Gino, a middle-grade novel in which a fourth-grade child switches roles in a school play to reveal their true gender identity.

And Tango Makes Three, written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole, an award-winning picture book based on the true story of two male penguins who hatch and raise a baby penguin.

2020 Banned Books

While many of the books highlighted above will likely be listed once again in the 2020 Top 10 Most Challenged Books List due out next spring, there are sure to be newcomers. According to a newspaper in Chattanooga, Tennessee, just earlier this month two books originally slated for seventh-grade readers were removed from reading lists: All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds and Monster by Walter Dean Myers, both of which have been publicly challenged multiple times since their publications. Both of these books deal with race and police violence. The same school reportedly also removed My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult from the seventh-grade reading list this year.

Regardless of the specific books challenged or banned year after year, the concept of censorship should be challenged across the board. Celebrating Banned Books Week by reading and sharing your thoughts on books that have been targeted through the decades is a great way to help address this important issue.

About the Author: Karen DeGroot Carter ( of Denver is the author of the novel ONE SISTER'S SONG. Her short fiction has been recognized in national competitions, and she’s had fiction, poetry, and articles published in various print and online outlets.

Read more by Karen DeGroot Carter

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