Oscar Wilde once said, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” Every year, we celebrate Banned Books Week, a week set aside to honor the freedom of expression, the freedom of ideas and the freedom to read. Every year, books have been written that question our ideas, denounce our values and show us our shame, and every year, books get banned and challenged for doing just that. Here is a list of the ten most frequently challenged books of the last year and the reasons they have been challenged.
George, by Alex Gino, a story about a young transgender girl was challenged for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You, by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, a book that explains racism and offers young readers tools to combat racist ideas was challenged for selective storytelling, not encompassing racism against all people and because of statements made by the author.
All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, a story about a boy who gets beaten by a police officer who is also the older brother of his best friend was challenged for anti-police views and because it was “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, a fictional novel based on the author’s personal experience of having been raped as a teenager was challenged for containing rape and being biased against male students.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, a story about a 14-year-old boy who transfers from the Indian reservation school to an all-white school in the town outside the reservation was challenged for profanity, sexual references and the conduct of the author.
Something Happened in our Town: A Child’s Story of Racial Injustice, by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard, a book intended to help parents answer children’s questions about racial injustice was challenged for divisive language and anti-police views.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, a novel told from the viewpoint of a little girl whose father defends an African-American man accused of rape in a small Alabama town in the 1930s has been one of the most challenged books of all time for everything from profanity in 1970, having racial slurs in 1985 to having a “white savior” character in 2020.
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, a novella about the experiences of two migrant ranch workers, one of which has a learning disability is also one of the most challenged books of all time for everything from profanity in 1977 to “a violent ending” in 1993 to racist stereotypes and their negative effect on students in 2020.
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, a story of an 11-year-old African-American girl who after being sexually abused by her father longs for beauty and acceptance which she equates with having blue eyes was challenged for being sexually explicit and depicting child molestation.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, a story about a teenage girl who witnesses a fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of the police was banned for profanity and having an anti-police message.
Stephen Chbosky, the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, said, “Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.” Books are supposed to challenge the way we look at the world. They are supposed to bring to light situations and ideas that may make us uncomfortable. Books are supposed to make us think. For Banned Books Week, I challenge you to read a banned or challenged book, whether it’s one of the books on the list above or one of the thousands of banned and challenged books that didn’t make the list, like The Kite Runner, Captain Underpants, A Wrinkle in Time or Running with Scissors. The only way we can stop the banning of books is through reading them and allowing others to read them as well. As Voltaire said, “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.”