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- Banning books can be a means of censorship.
- The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the top books that are most frequently challenged or banned each year.
- Below, you’ll find 10 of the most challenged books of 2018, along with the reasons they’ve been criticized.
Whether banning books calls to mind historical, homegrown controversies surrounding classics like "The Catcher in the Rye" (Salinger) and "Naked Lunch" (Boroughs) or the infamous Nazi book burnings of the ’30s, it’s easy to believe that such censorship has been retired by democratic countries.
But, believing it doesn’t really make it true.
Every year, the American Library Association tracks the challenges to library, school, and university materials and the books banned or burned as a result. Without collective hindsight, contemporary censorship simply slips into obscurity.
In 2018, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom documented 483 books challenged or banned in 2018. However, since the ALA’s database is built by media coverage and individual reports, it’s not exhaustive; there could be many more challenges that go unreported.
The reasons for banning books don’t really change. Typically with the best intentions (ie of protecting others), censorship can feel sticky and circumstantial. But the ALA seems to agree with what John Stuart Mill wrote in "On Liberty" that censorship is a means for "…robbing the human race. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error." Regardless, every citizen has their own opinion on intellectual freedom — and these book lists help foster the vital conversation.
From September 22-28, 2019, the ALA also host its annual Banned Books Week in libraries and bookstores across the nation. Founded in the 1980s alongside increased organized protests and momentous Supreme Court cases (Island Trees School District v. Pico), it seeks to bring together the entire book community, from teachers to publishers, to raise awareness of censorship.
Below are 10 of 2018’s most challenged and banned books, according to the ALA:
Book descriptions provided by Amazon and edited lightly for length.
"The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas
What it’s about: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does — or does not — say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Reasons, per ALA: The book was banned and challenged because it was deemed "anti-cop," and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references.
"George" by Alex Gino
What it’s about: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be "Charlotte’s Web". George really, really, really wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a "boy."
Reasons, per ALA: The book was challenged due to the belief that it would encourage children to change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning "dirty magazines," describing male anatomy, "creating confusion," and including a transgender character. Also challenged for teaching kids how to clear their browser histories, as when George did so to hide her research on transgender identities.
"A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo" by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
What it’s about: HBO’s Emmy-winning Last Week Tonight with John Oliver presents a children’s picture book about a Very Special boy bunny who falls in love with another boy bunny.
Meet Marlon Bundo, a lonely bunny who lives with his Grampa, Mike Pence — the Vice President of the United States. On this Very Special Day, Marlon’s life is about to change forever …
This book for kids explores issues of same-sex marriage and democracy. Sweet, funny, and beautifully illustrated, this better Bundo book is dedicated to every bunny who has ever felt different.
Reasons, per ALA: The book was banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ content, and for political and religious viewpoints.
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