September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, my personal favorite book holiday! This week we celebrate our right to read whatever we want and protect the right for books to explore the full realm of human experiences, including life’s dark side.
This year you can visit your local Denver Public Library Branch this week to have your mug shot photo taken at our “Caught Reading Banned Books” displays and explore some of the books that have been banned and challenged.
Every year there is a new list of the Top Ten Challenged Books, and an ongoing list of the Top 100 books of the decade. Often many of these books are classics that have been challenged since they were first written, but every year new books join their ranks.
The majority of these challenges occur in schools and school libraries, which affects the freedom of children and teens. A challenge doesn’t always lead to the book being banned, and there are organizations like the Freedom to Read Foundation and the Kids’ Right to Read Project that fight against censorship. Here are some inspirational stories of students and communities defending their right to read:
This summer in Broomfield, CO a group of parents challenged the inclusion on Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye on the AP English reading list at Legacy High School. One student responded with her own petition on Change.org which received over 1,000 signatures. The school board decided to compromise by requiring permission slips to read the book for class but kept the book in the school library.
Chicago public schools made the news this year when they removed Persepolis by Majane Satrapi from all schools in the district due to “graphic illustrations and language” and concerns about “student readiness.” Students and teachers mobilized a successful media campaign and the district retracted the ban.
Back in 2005, the superintendent in Norwood, CO physically removed all copies of Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya after parents complained about the book’s “pagan content” and profanity. Parents were actually allowed to destroy the books! Students protested the removal, writing letters to the editor and staging a sit-in.
To quote a high school student from Norwood, "I never knew this book [Bless Me, Ultima] existed. Now I feel it is my obligation to read it and see what our superintendent found so dangerous that it must be destroyed."
That is the heart of Banned Books Week. I hope you are inspired to explore these books and discover what someone else thought was so dangerous and offensive that other should not be allowed to read it.
Visit your local Denver Public Library Branch to check out banned and challenged books and demonstrate your freedom to read.