What You Can Do for Banned Books Week

By Gwen Glazer

Every year during Banned Books Week, libraries and book-lovers around the country acknowledge that censorship is alive and well in the United States.

We're not pleased about it, of course.

The American Library Association's top 10 list of frequently banned and challenged books in 2014 reads like something out of The Onion:

  • A graphic novel about a girl growing up in Iran was deemed "politically, racially, and socially offensive."
  • Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye was challenged because it "contains controversial issues." (If we ban all books that "contain controversial issues," library shelves will be 97 percent empty.)
  • Sherman Alexie's young-adult classic, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was challenged for being about things that are relevant to young adults.
  • A book to teach kids about sex was challenged for teaching kids about sex.
  • And -- my personal favorite -- a children's book about two male penguins raising a chick together was challenged because it's apparently "anti-family."

Irony aside, all of us in the book-loving community must acknowledge that books are still banned and challenged all over this country and others, and we must do our part to combat it.

So, what's the best way to help foster a world where fewer books come under fire?

Read banned and challenged books. Know what you're fighting for when you defend everyone's freedom to read. (Check out this list of recommendations from NYPL's expert library staff for new ideas.)

Read diverse books. Challenge yourself! Try books by new authors and in new genres.

Support authors whose work is questioned and controversial. Write them fan letters. Recommend them to your friends. Encourage them to write more by checking their books out from your local libraries and buying them from retailers.

Check out a banned or challenged book from the library. Show the number-crunchers that these books belong in places where anyone can check them out by proving that someone is using them.

Thank a librarian. We're out here on the front lines of our communities, and sometimes even in court, arguing for people's right to read what they choose.

Buy a banned or challenged book. Publishers don't get a lot of love these days, but they're taking risks too by supporting controversial work.

Talk to your older kids. Read the same books they're reading so you know what's going on -- and don't judge, even if it's not what you consider great literature! -- and then discuss the books. Ask them about their own ideas and impressions. Help them learn to think critically and question assumptions and stereotypes.

Read to your younger kids. Go to the library and check out a huge pile of books for free, and then sit down with them together. Include varied books written by diverse authors and starring characters of all shapes, colors, sizes, backgrounds, and viewpoints. And don't forget the one about the gay penguins.

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