Banned Books Week, a celebration of the freedom to read, ends September 28th. The theme this year is “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark.”
Organized in 1982, Banned Books Week is an annual event that highlights censorship and fights for our freedom of expression. Learn more here.
The First to Ban Books
People who ban books have been around for a very long time. The Chinese emperor Shih Huang Ti (259-210 BCE) assumed the throne when he was twelve or thirteen. He became the founder of the Qin dynasty and was the first emperor of a unified China. Tired of criticism from the scholars of the day, he ordered that “all the official histories, with the exception of the Memoirs of Qin, be all burnt” in 213 BCE. He changed the law, suppressed freedom of speech, banned books, and put to death anyone who defied the law. While it’s said he killed many philosophers, banning the books wasn’t as effective as he’d hoped. Like banned books today, banning those books gave them a certain reverence.
Who is Qualified to Ban Books
No one is qualified to ban books. We all have belief systems, prejudices, and life experiences that influence what we like to read, what we are comfortable reading, and what we are uncomfortable reading. Those who believe that their discomfort with certain topics or books makes them qualified to ban a book are gravely mistaken.
Silencing topics, or banning books, will not make either the topics or the books go away. Sometimes it makes that banned book and topic more desirable. But it does more than that.
Parents absolutely should monitor their child’s reading materials in their home. They have the right to make choices of what their child may read. And that is where their right to monitor and make choices ends… with their child.
Who Does it Hurt?
People, kids in particular, lose out when censorship happens. If they identify with the persons or topics in the banned books, they will feel belittled, negated, perhaps poisoned. Banning a book denies some people a reflection of themselves. It denies others a chance to grow and learn. If kids (or adults) need exposure to ideas and thoughts that challenge their understanding of the world. Without that exposure, they will be poorer at understanding and living in the real world.
It hurts the author of the banned books. You might say no, it doesn’t because it boosts sales. Read this article by Alex Gino, the author of George, the #1 most challenged and banned book in 2018.
Banning books hurts the people doing the banning. In their attempt to protect children or society from what they deem harmful, they have harmed those they wanted to protect.
Finally, banning or challenging books is a threat to our freedom of speech. If you want the right to speak up or out, you must protect the freedom of speech in all its expressions.
What Can You Do?
Read banned books.
Discuss why reading freedom is important.
Write a letter of support and appreciation to your favorite author of a banned or challenged book. You can find a list of banned and challenged books here
Report censorship to the appropriate organization. Here are links to the American Library Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Council of Teachers of English, or the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
If you are a writer or artist whose work has been challenged, red-flagged, or banned there are resources available to you. Click here.
Support the sponsors of the Banned Book Week: the American Booksellers Association, The American Library Association, The Association of University Presses, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the Index on Censorship.
It’s almost the end of Banned Books Week. Have you celebrated? Spread the word, “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark.”