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The Next Big Thing in Banned Books

2012 October 1
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YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

It’s that time of year again! While most of the world has no idea to which time I’m referring, those of us who make books our business are perfectly aware that it is Banned Books Week. This is a week we wait for all year: storing up thoughts to share on our blogs and with random passers-by concerning intellectual freedom and the place books play in the dispersion of ideas; carefully considering which books to display in order to get people discussing issues they may not regularly take up; painstakingly deciding how much “shock and awe” our communities can handle as we make banners and posters urging everyone to THINK!

Before we look forward at the next big thing in banned books, let’s take a quick look back at some of the trends in banning and challenging throughout the years. For the past 10 years, books have been banned and challenged for approximately 25 different reasons. Historically the top three reasons given are “sexually explicit,” “offensive language,” and “unsuited to age group.” During the past few years, 54% of all challenges to books have been initiated by parents, and nearly 70% have been in schools.

One trend that may point to the next big thing in banned books is the dramatic drop in the number of annual challenges.

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In 1995 there were 762 challenges, compared to only 348 in 2010. Could this mean that book banning is coming to an end? Dare we hope? While this is a heartening trend, an end to book bans and challenges may be a bit of a stretch, considering this trend is based on changes within a 15-year span whereas book banning (and burning) has been around as long as there have been books.

Another possibility for the next big thing in banned books could involve the reasons for book challenges.

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Some age-old favorites like “homosexuality” have dropped off the list for the past couple of years; there is a rise in “unsuited for age group;” and sex and language still hold the top spots. The next big thing here is that there will be no significant change. Some books will continue to have materials that some people find objectionable; that’s just part of free speech.

The final possibility for the next big thing in banned books was sparked not by trends and statistics but by a YA book, which coincidentally was reportedly banned in one public library. The Society, depicted in Ally Condie’s Matched (2011 Teens Top Ten; 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults), has what they call the “100″ things. What if the next big thing in banned books is that our society can only have “the 100 books?” What would they be? Who would get to choose? (Probably not NPR.)

– Michelle Blank, currently reading After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick and listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling (it’s like YA lit comfort food!)

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One Response
  1. Suzanne Neumann permalink
    October 1, 2012

    Great post. For some reason, YA books are rarely challenged at the public library where I work, but graphic novels rank an irate note from a parent about once each year. Thankfully, I’ve never had to remove a title.

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