Monday, 26 September 2011

Banned Books Week 2011

This week is Banned Books Week in the USA. Organised by the American Libraries Association, this has run annually since 1982 and is billed as a celebration of the freedom to read.

Every year in the US, several hundred books are ‘challenged’ – that is to say, or school or a library receives a formal written complaint – most often from a parent – requesting that a book be removed. The vast majority of these challenges affect books for children and – increasingly – for young adults.

Not all books that are challenged end up being taken off the shelves, but a fair few do. For example, in Texas, for every book challenged in schools during 2009/10, around one in five was give some form of restricted access and one in four was removed altogether. In some cases, a book can be taken off the school curriculum in individual schools or school districts because of the objection of one parent.

Judy Blume, in her 1999 introduction to Places I Never Meant to Be, dates the change in attitudes to the 1980 presidential election. For a decade before that, she says, she’d felt free to write pretty much what she pleased. But then “the censors crawled out of the woodwork, organised and determined.”

Outright censorship may be less of an issue in Europe than it is in the US. But don’t imagine that as non-US writer you are unaffected. Anne Rooney, a Cambridge based YA writer who had one of her own books removed from an elementary school in Texas last year, believes that writers elsewhere are being affected even before their books are published.

“Non-fiction publishers are more cautious than fiction publishers in my experience. Children’s non-fiction is illustrated, which is costly to produce. The publisher has to be sure they can sell into their targeted markets, which usually include the USA, or they can’t afford to publish the book at all.”

This can lead to publishers removing passages that might reduce sales in the US. And to writers self-censoring.

“We know what is not going to get through and why make work for ourselves at the editing stage by including material that will be challenged?” says Rooney.


Similar to Banned Books Week, Canada holds Freedom to Read Week at the end of February. This year, Canadians were invited ‘Free a Challenged Book’ on Bookcrossing. As big fans of Bookcrossing ourselves, we think that’s a great idea.

Why not pick a banned book of your own and set it free? It doesn’t have to be from the ALA list. You can choose any book that has banned at some point in its history. (If you want some ideas, take a look at Then write and tell us what book you chose, why, and where you left it. We have a copy of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games to give away for the best entry.


Read more about censorship and Banned Books Week in the October edition of Words with Jam. And you can join in Banned Books Week by taking part in the ALA’s Virtual Read Out on YouTube.

1 comment:

  1. My vote for the best "Banned Book" would go to one banned in South Africa during the Apartheid years. The book? "Black Beauty"! Now that was something special (Yes, I am talking about the book about the horse that had most people shedding tears for the horse. Here we wept because the powers that be thought it was about people who were politically challenged during those times.