Commonly Challenged Books
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume
According to Common Sense Media, Blume’s book includes frank discussion about periods, bras and sexual development. Delete Censorship.org notes that the book has been challenged or banned in many districts across the country due to sexual, amoral, and anti-Christian content. Many districts required parental permission before the book could be checked out.
This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) reports that This One Summer has been frequently banned, challenged, and restricted because it includes LGBT characters, profane language, drug use, and mature themes. Common Sense Media also notes the inclusion of a teen pregnancy.
Go Ask Alice, Anonymous
Go Ask Alice is an explicit telling of a young girl’s addiction to drugs. Written as a diary, the book includes striking descriptions of drug use, frequent obscenities, and references to sex.
Banning books is a dangerous practice. Certainly parents of young children may choose what they feel is or is not appropriate for their individual children, but this is a parenting decision that should occur between each parent and his or her child. Some students may not be ready to explore these topics, but some students are. Once the book had been vetted by school librarians according to the district’s collection development policy, then the book’s place is in the library – ensuring access to the book for all patrons who are ready and seeking access to the text.
Ultimately, I believe that books are challenged out of a desire to shield and protect children. While this protective impulse is understandable, the impact of censorship is far reaching and dangerous. Books are frequently challenged for many reasons including sexual content, obscene language, inclusion of LGBTQ characters, violence, racial themes, “deviant” behaviors and religious objections.
Certainly the desire to protect children makes sense, but banning and self-censorship do not protect children, but instead inhibit intellectual freedom. Reading allows us to develop empathy for characters who are different from us. They allow us to feel like we are not alone, like the feelings and experiences we have are relatable, and it is essential that we provide texts that support our students. Though we might not choose to include This One Summer in an elementary school library, we cannot allow self-censorship, or the values and fears of individual parents to limit other students’ First Amendment Rights.
It is certainly tricky to determine what is appropriate for children and young adults. There are, of course nuances and variations based on individual experiences, needs, and values. As librarians, we must be careful to be respectful of these individual perspectives, while also defending the intellectual freedom of all of our patrons. When we lean on our own individual perspectives, we are vulnerable to self-censorship and bias. It is helpful to rely instead on a collection of reputable reviews and a collaboratively developed selection development policy.