What to Read this Banned Books Week
Across the U.S., schools, libraries, and bookstores ban books from their shelves because of unorthodox or unpopular content, such as explorations of gender identity, same-sex relationships, drug use, and profanity. By removing or restricting access to books, these entities are engaging in censorship.
Banned Books Week, this year held September 23–29, is an annual event dedicated to drawing attention to the harm of censorship and promoting the free flow of information and ideas: the freedom to read.
This year, celebrate Banned Books Week by picking up one of the top ten most challenged books of 2017.
Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2017
1. Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher
In this young adult novel, high school student Clay Jensen receives a box of cassette tapes in the mail which were recorded by his classmate Hannah Baker, who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s audio diary details 13 reasons why she took her own life, taking Clay on a journey through high school parties, hallways, and social pressure. Thirteen Reasons Why has been challenged in schools for its exploration of bullying, rape, and suicide.
2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Ellen Forne
In this young adult graphic novel, an aspiring cartoonist named Junior leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend high school in a nearby farm town. Frustrated by the poverty of his home and school, Junior makes the decision to attend the all-white high school to seek a better education. Junior is challenged not only by poverty, but his own physical disability. The story is told in part by graphic illustrations. The novel also includes explorations of alcoholism, domestic abuse, bullying, and sexuality and has been challenged in schools because it includes profanity and situations deemed sexually explicit.
3. Drama - Raina Telgemeier
Drama is a graphic novel in which Callie, a middle schooler and theatre lover, works as the set designer for her school theatre production. Callie is wrapped up in tween dating, jealousy, rumors, and love triangles which threaten to disrupt the school theatre production she and others have worked so hard for. Drama explores friendship, teamwork, and inclusion through Callie and her relationships. The novel has been challenged for its inclusion of LGBTQ characters.
4. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
This novel is the delayed coming-of-age story of a wealthy Afghan boy named Amir, who is best friends with Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. The two’s friendship is challenged by the historical and tumultuous events around them, including the fall of Afghanistan's monarchy, the Soviet military intervention, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime. A story of friendship, betrayal, and redemption, the novel also explores the relationship between fathers and sons. The Kite Runner has been challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and because of concerns that it may “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
5. George – Alex Gino
George is a children’s novel about a fourth-grader named Melissa, a transgender girl known to everyone else as George. Melissa has been keeping the fact that she’s a girl a secret, but finds the courage to be herself when her class performs Charlotte’s Web. Melissa yearns to play the role of Charlotte, but is denied the role by her teacher because her teacher thinks she is a boy. With the help of her best friend Kelly, Melissa plans to take the star role of Charlotte and become known by her preferred name. The novel has been challenged and banned for its inclusion of a transgender child.
6. Sex is a Funny Word - written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
In this children’s comic book, families of all makeups, sexual orientations, and gender identities explore bodies, gender, and sexuality. The book acts as a resource for children and parents to open up discussion about values and beliefs, as well as safety, boundaries, and pleasure. The novel has been challenged because it addresses sex education and because of concerns that it may lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
7. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Set in the Deep South, the novel takes place during the Great Depression. Lawyer and widower Atticus Finch has been assigned to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young white woman. Atticus and his children, Scout and Jem, are ridiculed by the town for his defense of Tom, face the dangers of a lynch mob, and live under the threat of revenge by a man whose reputation is ruined in the trial. An American classic that explores racial inequality, To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged and banned for violent content and its use of racial epithets.
8. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
This young-adult novel follows black, 16-year-old Starr Carter, a girl who lives in a mostly poor black neighborhood but attends an affluent white suburban school across town. Starr witnesses her childhood best friend, Khalil, shot and killed by a police officer while unarmed. Some people call Khalil a thug and drug dealer while protesters stage walks in his memory. Cops and the local drug lord threaten Starr and her family. The only witness, Starr must decide what to say, and what not to say, about what she saw. The Hate U Give has been challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.
9. And Tango Makes Three - written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
Based on a true story, And Tango Makes Three is a children’s book that tells the story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins who fell in love while living in New York’s Central Park Zoo. With the help of their zookeeper, Mr. Gramsay, Roy and Silo create their own family. When Mr. Gramsay gives the pair an extra egg from anther penguin couple at the zoo, the two penguins take turns dutifully sitting on the egg and eventually hatch their own baby, Tango. The children’s book has been banned for featuring a same-sex couple.
10. I Am Jazz - written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
I am Jazz is a picture and children’s book coauthored by and based on the real-life experience of 13-year-old Jazz Jennings. The book tells the story a Jazz, a transgender child who knew she was a girl from the time she was two. The book explains Jazz’s transgender identity in simple terms: Jazz has a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. The book has been challenged for its address of gender identity and inclusion of a transgender child.
By banning the books listed above, schools, libraries, and bookstores engage in censorship of the ideas and voices expressed in them.
At the OSU Writing Center, we seek to empower students and faculty. We encourage open participation and collaboration. We acknowledge and celebrate diversity and growth by providing an environment in which differences are respected and students are encouraged to explore diverse voices. The Writing Center is a SafeZone and has SafeZone-Certified tutors available to work with students writing on subjects of LGBTQ+ identities, gender and sexuality, prejudice, assumptions, and privilege. We offer an inclusive environment to promote diverse voices and writing.
This Banned Books Week, you can fight the censorship of voices and support diversity by reading one of the books above, or maybe even starting your own. Visit the OSU Writing Center for help writing your story!
“About,” Banned Books Week. https://bannedbooksweek.org/about/
The Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2017 list was compiled based on information gathered by the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) from the media and reported by librarians and teachers across the U.S.