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Tag: banned books

Banned Books: International Edition

International books offer teen readers unique perspectives into the lives of young people from other countries. In some ways, these experiences are universal, yet in other ways they are particular to their cultural milieu. They are windows that open readers’ eyes to different experiences, different ways of thinking, and different norms, and in doing so, they may challenge our notions about what we deem socially acceptable.

Only a very small number of international books make it into the U.S. market, and even less into our YA market. Then, a select few of those books are granted the dubious honor of appearing on our Banned Books lists.

It is ironic that the very books whose value lies (in part, at least) in their ability to expand the minds of young adult readers by offering them perspectives outside of their cultural bubbles should be banned — often for those very same perspectives and ideas which are at their core.

Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read, to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox, unpopular, or “other.” International books may contain elements of all those things. We celebrate them here by exploring a sampling of international YA books that have been banned or challenged at one point or another, both here in the United States and abroad.

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Being A Teen in the Fight Against Book Censorship


October is an exciting month for any YA lit fan, because it includes Teen Read Week! In honor of this annual celebration of young adult literature, YALSA invited book-loving teens all over the world to apply to share their enthusiasm for reading in a guest post for The Hub. Thirty-one talented young writers were chosen, and we’ll be featuring posts from these unique voices all month long. Here’s Abby Hendrickson from Minnesota.

When I was a freshmen in high school, a parent in my town decided that the book that we would be reading in class that year, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (which discusses sexual abuse), was explicit and therefore should be banned and removed from shelves.  Immediately English teachers and librarians were up in arms, ready to strike out the looming book censorship. They were prepared to defend the right of the students and everyone else to read freely.

Not wanting it to become a big fight, the school board quickly came to the decision that the book wouldn’t be banned but instead would be pulled from the required reading list. Under the new rules, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was kept at the school where teachers would read aloud from it only when the passages were necessary for the lesson.


Banned Books Week: Why Do People Try to Ban Books Again?

Part of a previous year's Banned Book Week display . . . made with an old copy of Fanrenhiet 451. For irony. Photo by Anna Tschetter
Part of a previous year’s Banned Book Week display . . . made with an old copy of Fahrenheit 451. For irony. Photo by Anna Tschetter

I love Banned Books Week. I find that every year it comes around, there is always a new population of people who have no idea what it is. They look at our displays in our libraries and bookstores and wonder what it is all about. I’ve even had some teens look at my display one year  and then ask if they could actually check them out.

I think that is the best part of Banned Book Week: it gives you a way to have a conversation with patrons and readers about censorship, the freedom to read, and the nature of ideas.

Every year the American Library Association releases their list of the most frequently banned or challenged books in the United States. For 2013 to 2014 there are a lot of great YA novels on the list. Looking for Alaska (2006 Printz winner), I Hunt Killers, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2002 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (2008 Best Books for Young Adults), and Eleanor & Park (2014 Printz honor book) all grace the list.

It’s always fascinating to see the reasons why a book has been challenged or removed from a school or library. Personally, some of the reasons the books are challenged are the same reasons I think those books are great. Take the challenge in 2013 for Alexie’s Part-Time Indian: it was challenged because it presented the “crude, obscene, and unfiltered viewpoint of a ninth-grader growing up on the reservation.” That’s what makes the book so funny, accessible, and important to other teenagers! 

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A Round Up of Books Challenged or Banned in 2013

banned books weekBanned and challenged books get a lot of press during Banned Books Week, but I think it’s important to discuss issues like censorship year round and not just for one week at the end of September.

 Since most challenges involve material read in schools or marketed to young adults and librarians who serve teen patrons are often at the center of these issues, I thought an overview of books that were challenged in 2013 would be of interest to Hub readers. Of course, this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but I’ve attempted to round up challenges in the United States that involved teen readers.

Most of these books were challenged for being sexually explicit, containing offensive language, or being unsuitable for the age group, and most were challenged because they were included on a suggested reading list for students, part of a class assignment, or available in a school library. These are also, in most cases, books that have received wide acclaim and can teach tolerance and understanding. I was also surprised at how many books are by authors of color. The objections overwhelmingly looked at small sections of text without considering the context or overall message and theme of the book.


Why Do We Ban Books, Anyway?

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

The end of Banned Books Week is almost upon us. Banned Books Week celebrates readers everywhere and encourages us to pick up a book whose content has, at some point, been questioned. Chances are, you love a book that has ended up on a banned books list, although you might not realize it yet. Everything from the Harry Potter series to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, has been challenged in a public or school setting.

Common reasons for materials being challenged include “violence,” “racism,” “offensive language,” “sexually explicit” content, and of course, being “unsuited for age group.” With reasons like these, you can imagine how wide the range of challenged materials is. It also might not come as a surprise that E L James’ buzzworthy 50 Shades of Grey trilogy made the top ten list of 2012’s most challenged titles.


Teenage Rebel With A Cause: Why I Love Banned Books Week

book burning Flickr Jason Verwey
image from Flickr user Jason Verwey

The teenage rebel has become a treasured image in American culture.  In fact, phrases like “pushing boundaries” and “classic teenage rebellion” frequently worm their way into conversations about adolescents.  Now, I generally don’t put any stock in the accuracy of stereotypes, especially about stereotypes about teenagers.  However, every nostalgic conversation among my colleagues or friends includes confessions from each individual’s brief past as a teenage rebel.  Whether it’s skipping school, sneaking out to a party, or simply dressing as bizarrely as possible, practically everyone has a memory of teenage rule-breaking–or at least rule-bending.  Even I clearly recall my version of  teenage rebellion–perhaps because the experience helped shape my current career.

Like many strange and wonderful stories, this one begins in eighth grade English class.  The curriculum included To Kill A Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451–two novels that frequently feature in school assignments and lists of American classics.  Both titles also regularly appear on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books list compiled by the American Library Association.  I can’t recall if we discussed book banning and challenges during our study of To Kill A Mockingbird, but the subject obviously came up during of our reading of Fahrenheit 451.  Being a passionate reader, the situation described in Fahrenheit 451–a future where books have become illegal and book burning is the specialty of firemen–was my worst nightmare.  Books were my escape, my dearest companions and my guides.  The thought of outlawing books was unthinkably horrific–especially when I learned that book banning was still a reality here in the U.S.

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ALA 2013: How a Book is Saved

P1020523On Saturday, June 29, a panel of librarians presented a session on book challenges at ALA 2013. Their message was that most challenges were from parents and involved material for children and young adults.


  • Emily Knox, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Kristin Pekoll, young adult librarian at the West Bend Community Library
  • Suellen Reimers, co-president of the Helen Matthes Library Board
  • Nanette Perez, Program Officer, ALA

What Motivates People to Challenge Library Material


Prisoner of Books (An Interview with Corey Michael Dalton)

Corey in his prison of books

So it goes

“If somebody claims to have all the answers, they are probably lying.” So says Corey Michael Dalton, who has locked himself in a prison made of banned books to celebrate Banned Books Week. Dalton doesn’t claim to have all the answers; he just has the humble wish that people will read more. His self-imposed exile is an attempt to raise awareness about censorship and reading.

“I didn’t realize that people still banned books,” says Dalton, who was asked to take part in this awareness campaign by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) in Indianapolis. They have a stake in the argument, as they worked to oppose the ban of Slaughterhouse-Five from Republic High School in Republic, Missouri last year. Dalton, aside from being a board member of the library, has another connection to Vonnegut. He is a former assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post, which published several of Vonnegut’s early short stories.

The idea came about as a result of the Republic challenge to Slaughterhouse-Five because although the school has since placed the book back in the library, it remains restricted in what some term a “literary gulag.” It was decided that Corey would put himself in lock up as a form of protest for the treatment that Vonnegut’s work has received in the Republic school.

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YA Under Fire: What Makes the Books Teens Love so Controversial?

As the end of September approaches, the air in the library feels charged. The rest of the year, students walking through the commons might glance at my window display and smile. In September, they stop and stare. A boy runs his fingers around the red graffitied letters that spell out “Banned Books Week 2012.” A girl lightly touches the cover images of books like The Hunger Games and Ann Brasheres’s Traveling Pants series — staples in our library — that have been challenged or banned elsewhere. I can read their lips through the glass. “This book was banned?” “Why would anyone want to ban that?” Some come in and pore over the list, gleefully grabbing “forbidden” books from the display rack to check out.

I have learned not to be surprised, but I am still saddened when, year after year, ALA’s list of “Books Challenged or Banned” bears an uncanny resemblance to my summer reading list. For the past seven years, at least half of the books on the top ten list have been YA novels — more than the number of adult and children’s books combined. Even more disturbing, a whopping 36 of the 47 challenges detailed on last year’s list originated either in classrooms and school libraries or in the YA section of public libraries. This means that teens are having their right to read threatened more than any other group. So why are people getting so worked up over YA?