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.

Though this compromise was accepted, it was accepted begrudgingly. The librarians and teachers followed the rules that had been made to pacify parents, but they didn’t stand back and let this attempt to ban books become the new normal.

photo by flickr user martinak15
photo by flickr user martinak15

What they did in response showed me that there are ways to stand up against book banning.  My English teacher, Mrs. L, reminded my class that no one can stop us from reading freely and we were certainly able to pick up a copy and read it if we wanted. She kept a stack of books on her desk for anyone to borrow and the librarians displayed the book proudly in the media center. With my interest was piqued, I decided to snag a copy. Thanks to the efforts of the teachers and librarians, the attempt to ban the book had had the opposite effect.

That was my first time seeing book censorship in action, but reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings wasn’t my first time I had read a banned book. As it turned out, I had been reading banned and challenged books for a long time without even knowing it. Early in my school career I had read books like Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business, Bridge to TerabithiaCharlotte’s Web, and, of course, Harry Potter. All of them, I’ve learned, are banned or challenged somewhere in the United States.

More well loved books that join them on the list of 11,300 books that the American Library Association reports have been challenged in the last 32 years include:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  •  Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  •  Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

As I became more informed about book banning and I realized how many stories that had entertained, enchanted, and educated me in the past were being denied to other kids, I was both angered and saddened. It wasn’t fair, I decided, that because of book banning another student might never know the feeling of following Katniss and Peeta’s progress in the arena, the comfort of Laurie Halse Anderson’s words, or learn the lasting damage that abuse leaves on a person’s

By sheltering young people from the “unfit” topics in these books, book banners close doors on healthy discussion that can help kids and teens understand and think critically about the issue. Instead of fearing books about tough topics, society should be embracing them as an ideal way to bring up issues that are normally ignored.

With these thoughts in my mind, I set out to find how I could follow the example of the adults at my school and defend my freedom to read. What I learned was that teens don’t have to take this sitting down. There are ways to fight against the oppression of book censorship. Teens can:

  • Read banned books
  • Find out if your library has a program you can be a part of to bring attention to book banning
  • Participate in events like Banned Books Week (an event hosted each year in September to celebrate the freedom to read)
  • Support foundations that are involved in fighting censorship such as the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Whether it be reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson then discussing bullying with a friend or giving someone access to a book that’s been pulled from library shelves, there’s a way for teens to stand up against book banning. I did this when I decided to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in ninth grade and I continue to fight by reading and discussing banned books today.

Luckily for me, my first up close encounter with book challenging wasn’t one where the book banners were truly successful. The instance set a tone for how I view book banning and always reminds me that there are victories in the battle against book banning. Teen readers are not powerless in this fight and can help show the world how literature can be a platform for starting discussion that leads to awareness and change.

Abby Hendrickson is a 16 year old book loving, iced tea drinking, social media enthusiast from Minnesota. Besides reading, her favorite activities include dancing, swimming, and marathoning shows on Netflix.

4 thoughts on “Being A Teen in the Fight Against Book Censorship”

  1. Abby your article is amazing! I think its fantastic that your willing to stand up against censorship.

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