This year marked the 40th anniversary of Banned Books Week, Sept. 12-24. Banned Books Week celebrates free and open access to information. The theme was, “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” A few titles on the top 10 most challenged book list include, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” “Lawn Boy,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” and “The Hate You Give.” The most challenged books have the same themes including, race, gender identity, and sexuality, with most titles written for young adults and children.
Created in 1982 after a sudden increase in challenges to books in schools, libraries, and bookstores, this year saw the highest number of challenged books since the American Library Association, ALA, began tracking such attempts. With over 1,651 books challenged so far this year, Banned Books Week aims to bring attention to the current efforts at censorship being fought by schools, libraries, and bookstores.
The commonality between banned books
At a time when anti-LGBTQIA+ bills like the “Don’t Say Gay” law are signed into law by elected officials, some of the most challenged books contain positive LGBTQIA+ themes and books with discussions of race or sexuality that are intended for younger readers.
“When going through the list [of banned books] to make our public list for the catalog, I noticed we had a lot of new YA [young adult] stuff get banned for discussing sexuality or race. We don’t normally see that with adult fiction so much,” Caroline Coriell, reference and instruction librarian at Cabrini, said. “There is definitely more of a focus on what children are reading.”
It is common for books written for high school and middle school students to be challenged by parents, elected officials, other members of a community, and even external organizations. However, books for children as young as elementary age and preschool also appear on the list.
A children’s book about two male penguins, based on the true story of Central Park Zoo penguins Roy and Silo, has been on the ALA’s Top 10 most challenged books list a total of eight times since its publication in 2005.
“We have ‘And Tango Makes Three’, which is one of the banned books. It’s about two male penguins who raise an egg. It’s a children’s book, you know, very light and fluffy. It’s not going into explicit detail about anything,” Coriell said. “It is just a penguin that has two dads and that really has people riled up.”
“I find it very discouraging that we are especially banning books that would just have let’s say same-sex parents,” Hannah Boone, junior education major and vice president of Educators for Equity and Social Justice, EESJ, on campus, said. “It is very disheartening. I don’t think people understand how passionate some are about getting rid of these books in school, especially considering the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. The effects of that are now impacting the teachers in Florida who can’t even have pictures of their families up.”
An unwelcoming environment for students
Culture wars wage on as parents, educators, and school districts fight over including topics such as sexuality, race, and gender in schools. Consequently, this leads to a high amount of books being challenged and eventually banned in schools. But how does this battle affect the education of students who have to adjust to its aftermath?
“People’s families look all different shapes and sizes, so representation in books is important, especially at such a young age,” Boone said. “Otherwise, in your classroom, you’re going to have children who don’t feel welcome, they don’t feel included or represented, and it’s going to make them feel like they don’t belong in school and that part of them is having to be stripped away while they are at school.”
Boone, said, “Books get banned for a certain reason but the purpose of schools is to educate people not based on anyone’s bias, just to educate future generations and to give them knowledge and facts, not to influence their opinions in any certain way.”
As part of EESJ at Cabrini, Boone and the other members provide a safe space for students to come together and discuss issues in the education system on making lasting change impact locally, on or off campus.
“We are currently doing a back-to-school supplies drive to benefit a school in Philadelphia that almost got shut down last year, so these children are in need of having proper school supplies in order to be able to succeed. If you don’t have notebooks, pens, or pencils, how are you supposed to work toward achieving academic excellence?” Boone said.
When students feel supported, represented, and have appropriate supplies, then they will have a learning environment where they can grow and develop their own ideas and a sense of who they are.
Boone, said, “Representation and inclusion are so important regardless of sexual orientation and sexual identity, gender identity, race, background, culture.”
The Holy Spirit Library’s interactive Banned Books display will be up until Oct. 30.
EESJ is open to all students. They will be collecting school supplies until Oct. 11.