Banned Books Week.

Banned Books Week is coming to an end. Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about why talking about books that have been banned, and talking about the reasons why they have been banned is so important to me. The aim of Banned Books Week is to celebrate the freedom to read, the freedom to express ideas and thoughts, and it is extremely important that we acknowledge how crucial it is that we are able to access information. 

If one looks back through different time periods, it is clear that banning and challenging books has always been an issue that the literary world has to contend with. In 2022, the banning and challenging of books, particularly in schools, is happening at a disappointingly high rate. 

I am conducting research currently while working on my MA thesis, and within the broad scope of reading that I am doing, I found a list of books that have been banned or challenged recently and this list details the reasons why. I’ve also been examining some of the books that I studied in detail while I was doing my BA because many of the books on that course have been banned at one point in time. This is a fact that baffles me because after studying some of these texts, I would argue in detail why each one of them needs a place on academic curriculums. 

It is very interesting when you read about why certain books have been banned or challenged. 

After reading several lists of books that have been challenged and the reasons why, I’ve quickly put together three categories that I’m affectionately calling “Banning Bingo” categories. 

In no particular order, it has become clear that a book will likely face banning and challenging issues if it contains any of the following:

  • Sex/Sexuality 

If a book contains any content regarding sex or a character’s sexuality, the questionisng of one’s sexuality, exploring, experimenting, intimacy etc. then the book is likely to face some challenges. 

In my opinion, when a book talks about sex/sexuality, the complaints about the book get divided into two sections. 

There are people who feel that teens in school should not be reading anything about sex or sexuality at all, because the information is not age appropriate, or they feel that the classroom is not an appropriate place to access this information and see it as a parent’s job to educate their own children about sex. This complaint seems to be about sex in general. 

There are other people who very specifically have a problem if a book explores what it is like to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. So if a character is questioning their sexuality, wondering if they are gay or bi for example, if a character is thinking about their gender identity as well, or sadly even if a book focuses on a same sex couple or same sex parents then this book is unfortunately likely to face challenges. This complaint is due to some people believing that anything besides heteronormative is somehow “wrong” or “inappropriate”. 

It is 2022. Many children have same sex parents, and many people explore their sexuality and their identity and it is a shame that some people have the opinion that someone else’s family structure is “wrong” just because it is different to their family structure and I really hope that as a society, we get to a place where if someone challenges a book and their reason for challenging that book is because they have an issue with same sex relationships for example, then that complaint should be dismissed. Focusing on anyone who is not heteronormative is not a valid reason to ban or challenge a book. 

I would put forward the question: is there truly any reason to ban a book? 

This is an entirely different, and very complex conversation as many people will have many opinions on this, but I don’t believe in banning books or limiting somebody’s education or their ability to access different information about everything that goes on in this world. 

  • Flaws & Failings of Society: Critiquing social issues,  flaws, & failings. . 

If a book explores issues and failures in our society then this book will likely face challenges. 

Many books have been challenged or banned if they discuss racism. Books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Colour Purple, Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry have all been challenged or banned at one point in time, they are still challenged today. If books discuss how a system can be inherently and implicitly flawed, if they make readers look inwards and force readers to confront their own biases, if they open conversations about diversity and injustice in the classroom then these books will face challenges because some people just do not want to discuss those things. 

Another point is that some books contain very racist and hurtful language and stereotypes and people have challenged these books because of that derogatory language. 

Literature reflects society, the good, the bad, the things we wish never happened. 

History cannot be erased. Horrible things were said and done. Books written in a certain time period will reflect the language and attitudes that were prevalent at that time. You can’t read a Mark Twain book for example, and pretend that the racist language and racist attitudes illustrated in his works did not happen. You read Huckleberry Finn and the purpose of reading this book is to reflect upon the abysmal actions that happened in this book, and discuss how wrong those actions were. You read the book and should be appalled that certain attitudes were just the norm and the book teaches us that this kind of prejudice against other people is unacceptable, and as a society, we have to learn from history so that society changes, so that history does not repeat itself. 

Banning these kinds of books from the classroom is actively banning people’s history and that is wrong. Suffering occurred, suffering is still occurring, and to ban someone’s ability to speak about their suffering or the suffering of their ancestors is just wrong. It should not be allowed to happen. Some people should not be able to decide that they simply don’t want to hear about or know about another’s person’s experiences just because those experiences are difficult to hear about. 

Racism is just one topic that causes some people to want to challenge a book, other topics such as climate change, class differences, bodily autonomy and the right to make decisions about one’s own body, inequality in many forms, and consent are all topics that cause some people to want to challenge a book. 

The reasons for wanting to challenge these topics, again fall to the opinion of some that consent for example, is a topic that should be taught at home. 

This is a conversation that needs to be more nuanced, because there is a way to deliver information in an age appropriate way, and some kids handle things earlier than others, some kids mature later than others and so they may need more time before they learn about certain topics, but there is a huge difference between wanting to make sure your own child is ready to hear certain information vs feeling that kids in school just should not be taught about certain things. 

Some people want to have the right to teach their own kids about topics in their own homes, but then they do not have those crucial conversations and then we have eighteen year olds who are leaving secondary school and high school and they’re going off into the world without a proper understanding of consent and personal boundaries etc. 

There is also the point that education is meant to be broad. You are supposed to learn about different people, different places, different cultures, different ideas, different beliefs, and some of the things you learn about may be different to what you personally think, but that does not mean that education should be hindered. 

  • Violence 

Violence of any kind in books will usually be challenged. Violence in movies will be challenged. 

People will always question whether or not a book or film is too violent for kids to read/watch. 

If a book containing violence is to be taught in schools, people will question if the book is too violent for a classroom. 

This type of questioning happens in other mediums too. People question whether or not people should play violent games. People question if violence in the media glorifies and encourages violence etc. Violence will most likely always be challenged.

I think it is important to give readers, particularly younger readers more credit. People are not just passive viewers or passive readers, you can watch a movie or read a book that contains violence without automatically going and doing something violent yourself. If anything, many narratives promote the message that violence is wrong and it is shocking that this violence happens. To say that violent content automatically makes viewers and readers behave violently severely insults the viewer/reader because we are not mindlessly consuming content. We can still make our own decisions about our actions. Violence and how the violence shown is contextualised is very important, and I do believe that it is a subject that should be handled with care, tact, nuance, and respect but I don’t think violent content should be challenged automatically because it is violent. 

I also think that no matter what the topic is, if a book is about relationships, or racism, or inequality, or about coming of age, it does not matter what the topic is, the topic should always be handled with care, tact, nuance, proper research, and respect. 

So those are, in my opinion, the three main areas of topics that will lead to a book facing challenges. Sex/Sexuality, Flaws and Failings in Society, and Violence are headings that contain a very broad, very layered, very nuanced range of topics and ideas that tend to face challenges for the reasons I have discussed above, and many more. 

  • Other Areas. 

There are also two other areas that tend to cause issues as well, and those areas are magic and the idea that animals may be equal to humans. Alice in Wonderland was challenged because of the nonsense in the book, and because Carroll placed animals in the text as being equal to Alice.  Books that contain magic are challenged in so many ways, as like fairy tales, people question are they unrealistic? Do they promote unrealistic life expectations? Do they tell children magic is real and should they? Books that contain magic can also face criticism based upon religious objections and others question if the magic being done is promoting bad behaviour, encouraging pranks etc. 

So it is clear that there are many different reasons as to why someone might want to challenge or more extremely, ban a book, and as I’ve discussed, there are certain topics that tend to face these challenges very often. I think it is so important that we study why books get challenged because to take a book out of a classroom or a library, to not allow someone to read or watch something, it may seem like not a big deal to some, because people think that what a kid does not know won’t hurt them, but to block access in any way to a topic, is actively hindering somebody’s growth. If a topic is not allowed to be explored, education is being limited. If a person cannot learn wholly about the world, then their knowledge of the world and how to handle the world is being limited, their ability to grow emotionally is being limited, their ability to develop their own opinions, and their own critical thinking skills is being limited, and a message is being presented that if your experiences and thoughts and ideas don’t fit certain boxes then your ability to express yourself will be limited, censored, and silenced. So book banning is not a casual thing, and the fact that some people will discuss removing a book so flippantly is a problem. Banning, challenging, censoring, is a very serious thing and it has serious repercussions and so a much bigger conversation needs to be had. That is why Banned Books Week is so important, the right to access ideas and express ideas is so fundamental, and the right to access information should always be acknowledged as highly significant, and the right to express oneself and read about anything and everything should be celebrated. 

Cited Below are articles of interest that I have reread many times during this week. 

“Shhhh! These Kid’s Books Have Been Banned (or Challenged).” Evanston Public Library, 24 Sept. 2021, https://www.epl.org/booklist/shhhh-these-kids-books-have-been-banned-or-challenged/. 

Heidi. “Banned! – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: J. Willard Marriott Library Blog.” J. Willard Marriott Library Blog |, 11 Oct. 2018, https://blog.lib.utah.edu/banned-alices-adventures-wonderland/#:~:text=In%201931%2C%20the%20work%20was,beings%20on%20the%20same%20level.%E2%80%9D. 

Do you have a book that resonated with you? Has it been banned? Think about it. Look it up. It is important.

Kate xo.

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