A requirement of my high school English class was to write a series of book reports on books of our own choosing. Since I loved to read and write, this was hardly a chore. All of my reports came back with A grades — until the day my teacher handed back a report with red letters scrawled across the top: “Oh Jackie, how could you! See me.” I didn’t get it. This was a book I loved.
The book my teacher was so disgusted with was Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, a banned book. I didn’t know what a banned book was or that I’d written a report on one or even that books could be banned. I’d taken the book out of my grandmother’s locked bookcase because it was a historical novel set in 1644 London, my favorite genre. The memory of reading it sticks clearly in my mind, that this was a novel with realistic adult situations, not sugar-coated. It made all of the other books I’d read seem like baby books. When I found out the truth about book banning, I made up my mind never to allow anyone to prohibit me from reading any book of my own choosing.
Who challenges books? The answer is simple: any individuals or groups wanting to suppress ideas that disagree or conflict with their own beliefs.
Why are books challenged and banned? According to the American Library Association (ALA) the top three reasons are: the material is considered sexually explicit, contains offensive language, and/or is unsuited to any age group. Although censorship violates our First Amendment freedom, books are usually challenged with the best intentions, to protect children. J.K. Rowling’s popular Harry Potter series has received numerous challenges, even though the world’s children haven’t all morphed into demon-worshiping wizards.
How are books banned? As late as the 1950’s books like Forever Amber were taken from schools and libraries and burned. Injunctions against store sales were instituted by states. But today book banning is not a simple process. The first step is a written challenge. The Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) offers an online application to individuals. Challenges by individuals are kept confidential. It also receives reports from libraries, schools, and the media, and compiles lists of challenged books to keep the public informed about censorship efforts that affect libraries and schools.
Where can I find a list of banned or challenged books? Check out the Office for Intellectual Freedom’s site titled “Banned and Challenged Classics.” No doubt you’ve already read and loved many of them.