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Banned Books Week Is Coming Up

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: “Rise to the Challenge” by Marva Hinton in School Library Journal, September 2019 (Vol. 65, #8, pp. 46-48)
In this School Library Journal article, Marva Hinton highlights Banned Books Week, which is September 22-28. The American Library Association promotes this week (which started in the 1980s) to draw attention to books that are banned or challenged. Showcasing the week tends to be more common in high schools than elementary, but the issues are common at all levels as some parents and community members object to certain titles.
Books that have been challenged or banned include The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird, Captain Underpants, and The Hate U Give. Books with LGBTQ and transgender themes are the most common challenges in recent years, including This Day in June, an award-winning picture book about a pride parade, and George, a middle-grade novel about a transgender girl who’s frustrated that everyone sees her as a boy.
Many librarians, especially at the elementary level, are leery of controversy. One Virginia elementary school librarian doesn’t draw attention to Banned Books Week and shies away from ordering controversial titles. “When it comes down to making choices,” she says, “it’s easier to buy safe books that you know kids will read and really love versus ones that might go home and somebody might question. So I think fear does hold us back, and fear still holds me back. I don’t put up a display that says, ‘Hey, LGBTQ books here.’ I don’t booktalk them. I don’t promote them specifically.”
By contrast, a high-school librarian in a small town in South Carolina has an annual writing contest; this year it’s “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark: Keep the Light On!” Students answer daily trivia questions about censorship and do a gallery walk in the library with eight stations on book bans, challenges, and the history of censorship. Contest winners get to pick a frequently challenged young adult novel as their prize. Students often have “strong reactions,” says this librarian. “They get pretty indignant about the idea that there are some places that would restrict what you can check out as a student.”
“I think we always have to bring the idea back to our constitutional rights,” says Mary Keeling, president of the American Association of School Librarians. “What’s important about this isn’t the sensationalism of a banned book; the importance is our freedom in a democratic society to listen to and read and think the ideas we want to think. The concept is essential to democratic discourse.” Keeling suggests that librarians work with social studies teachers during Banned Books Week to get students thinking about the First Amendment and draw distinctions between books that are outright banned by a school board or administrator and books that have been challenged for a variety of reasons.

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