Friday, September 27, 2019
September 27, 2019: AmericanStudy a Banned Book: 2018’s Most Challenged Books
[Happy Banned Books Week! In high school I had a deeply nerdy sweatshirt that read “Celebrate Freedom: Read a Banned Book”; this week I’ll do so by AmericanStudying books that have been frequently banned, in the past or recently. And yeah, read a Banned Book this week!]
On three takeaways from the American Library Association’s annual list.
1) Anti-LGBTQ prejudice, still: A great deal has changed in the 30 years since the publication of and controversies over yesterday’s focal book, Heather Has Two Mommies; but, well, the more things change, etc. Four of 2018’s eleven most challenged books are on the list largely (if not solely) due to their inclusion of LGBTQIA+ content (the evolving acronym certainly reflects some of those social changes), making clear that the groups and perspectives that objected to Newman’s children’s book remain powerful forces in the debates over classroom, school, and library collections. But that number also reflects the exponential and continued growth of children’s and YA portrayals of these identities since 1989, a trend which I have to imagine (with a great deal of satisfaction) frustrates those bigots to no end.
2) Satire/humor, still: Although their situations were of course very different, two of the other banned books I highlighted this week, Huck Finn and The Satanic Verses, could both accurately be described as humorous/satirical works. Two of 2018’s most challenged books fall squarely into that category as well: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, a satirical, political children’s book co-created by TV humorist John Oliver; and Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants YA series. As that last hyperlinked post indicates, I’m not quite as big a fan of Pilkey’s books as are my sons, and I suppose I get why their negative portrayals of school might have led to some of those challenges. But at the same time, what an absolutely tone-deaf way to respond to depictions of school as overly serious, allergic to humor, and opposed to creativity!
3) A 2018 snapshot: I imagine this would be the case with each’s year list, but it’s striking how much the 2018 list reflects many of the core issues facing not just young people (although yes) but all Americans in this era. The #1 book, Alex Gino’s George (2015), features a transgender protagonist and many related themes of gender and sexual identities; the #4, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give (2017), focuses on a police shooting of an African American young man; and the #6, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007), depicts social media conflicts, online bullying, sexual assault, and teen suicide, among other issues. Both the books themselves and the efforts to challenge them reflect a society and culture dealing with and divided by these issues, which of course is just one more excellent reason to read these (and all) banned books.
September Recap this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Banned books you’d highlight?