Libraries, bookstores celebrate 20 years of Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week serves to raise awareness about censorship and remind Americans that our freedoms can be fragile.
In Muskogee, Okla., the high school principal decides to pull Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird from the required reading for freshman because of racially charged language. At roughly the same time, the Chicago Public Library chooses the same book, a childhood favorite of Mayor Richard M. Daley, as the first book in a new citywide reading initiative.

For 20 years, libraries and bookstores across the country have worked to call attention to the fact that books are under attack every year. The Chocolate War (Robert Cormier) and Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) are continually targeted by would-be censors, while the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling) has caught the spotlight in the past two years. Thousands of bookstores and public, school and academic libraries will observe Banned Books Week this year, September 22-29, with discussion, exhibits and special programs. This year's theme is: Develop Yourself: Expose Your Mind to a Banned Book.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association (ALA), the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of American Publishers. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

The ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom has recorded more than 6,000 book challenges since 1990. It is estimated that less than one-quarter of all challenges are reported and recorded.

"Banned Books Week serves to raise awareness about censorship and remind Americans that our freedoms can be fragile if we are not vigilant in protecting them," said Judith Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

A "challenge" is defined as a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school about a book's content or appropriateness. The majority of challenges (roughly 60 percent) are brought by parents, followed by library patrons and administrators.

"Free people read, write, publish, sell and share banned books," said Chris Finan, president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. "Challenging books beg questions and invite conversation and discussion."

Classrooms and school libraries are increasingly on the front lines of attempts to restrict reading materials. In the 1990s, more than 70 percent of all challenges were to materials in schools or school libraries.

"As educators, we cannot, for the sake of students, allow ourselves to be bullied into diluting the curriculum into superficial facts," said Pat Scales, author of "Teaching Banned Books," school librarian and member of the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee. "We must encourage students to express their own opinions while respecting the views of others."

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 646 challenges in 2000, up from 472 in 1999. The "Ten Most Challenged Books of 2000" reflect a wide variety of themes.

* Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, for occult/Satanism and anti-family themes
* "The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier, for violence, offensive language and being unsuited to age group
* Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, for sexual content and being unsuited to age group
* "Killing Mr. Griffin," by Lois Duncan, for violence and sexual content
* "Of Mice and Men," by John Steinbeck, for using offensive language, racism, violence and being unsuited to age group
* "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou, for sexual content, racism, offensive language, violence and being unsuited to age group
* "Fallen Angels," by Walter Dean Myers, for offensive language, racism, violence and being unsuited to age group
* Scary Stories series, by Alvin Schwartz, for violence, being unsuited to age group and occult themes
* "The Terrorist," by Caroline Cooney, for violence, being unsuited to age group and occult themes
* "The Giver," by Lois Lowry, for being sexually explicit, occult themes and violence.

"Not every book will be right for every person, but the right to choose what we read is a freedom we cannot afford to take for granted," said Judith Platt, director of the Association of American Publishers' Freedom to Read program.


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