September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, a time for us to celebrate books that have been banned or challenged. Very often, the targets of these challenges are books that are aimed primarily at a teenaged audience. The books that teens read can have a huge impact not only on their future reading habits, but on the way they view and interact with the world. By reading a variety of works, young adults can gain new perspective, learn that they aren’t alone in the world and become enlightened to important issues. As the ALA reminds us, “censorship leaves us in the dark,” so let’s shed some light on a few of the many banned or challenged books available for teens to check out.
Paint Me Like I Am: Teen Poems is an anthology of poems by teens compiled by the San Francisco based Writers Corps. Ironically, despite it being written by teenagers, the book has been challenged as being inappropriate for teenagers to read because of the ‘mature’ language and topics it contains.
Another anthology making the list is Am I Blue?: Coming Out From the Silence edited by Mario Dane Bauer. The book offers short stories by writers including Lois Lowry, Jacqueline Woodson, Bruce Coville and others all focusing on the theme of growing up gay or lesbian. The first collection of its kind aimed at a young adult audience, Am I Blue? has faced censorship since it was first published in 1995.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie has faced many attempted bans. Because it deals with issues like racism, bullying and sexuality in a realistic and frank way Diary has ruffled a few feathers. Most attempts at censoring the work have failed, however, with teachers, administrators and community members recognizing the value in allowing students to be exposed to challenging materials.
Anyone who has struggled with body issues or felt like an outsider amongst their own family will find a kindred spirit in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. Once again, a book that openly and honestly discusses issues that many teens deal with on a regular basis has been challenged for doing exactly that.
The first ever graphic novel to win a Caldicott Medal, This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki has drawn praise from critics and criticism from would-be censors. Because the book features LGBTQ characters, drug use, profanity and sexual elements, many have been quick to call it inappropriate for a teenaged audience.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas addresses issues of race and justice head-on. Inspired by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, The Hate U Give is the story of a young girl finding her voice in the face of injustice. Not surprisingly, it’s subject matter and the nuanced and complex way Thomas presents it have led some to attempt to ban it.
When it was first released, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone faced a number of attempted bans. Despite concerns that the fantasy series would lead children to practice black magic, Harry Potter became a world-wide phenomenon with sequels, spin-offs, movies and theme parks. No matter how significant a mark J.K. Rowling’s work has made on popular culture, there are still attempts being made in 2019 to ban the books from schools. If Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is any indicator, Harry Potter may be showing up on banned books lists for years and years to come.
Take time this week to check out some banned books and find out what all the fuss is about.