For the past two years, a children’s book about two male penguins caring for an orphaned egg has topped the list of the American Library Association’s 10 Most Challenged Books. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school, requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The award-winning tale about two daddy penguins Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell received these challenges because of its “homosexuality and anti-family” viewpoint. What?! Hold on, let me check my map, are we still in the United States of America?
For more than 15 years, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom has received and tallied reports on book challenges. In 2007, the office received 420 reports on efforts to abolish materials from school curriculum and library bookshelves. However, the majority of challenge requests are not reported and the number of challenges is far greater.
Hot on the heels of reports about Sarah Palin’s propensity to challenge books in the Wasilla library comes Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, which is observed during the last week of September each year. Observed since 1982, this annual ALA event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. The event is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores. It is endorsed by the Library of Congress Center for the Book.
According to the ALA, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular, and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met. Check out the list of frequently challenged books.
What you can do to fight censorship and keep books available in your libraries, suggested by the ALA:
Stay informed. If you read or hear about a challenge at your school or public library, support your librarian and free and open access to library materials. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom estimates they learn of only 20-25 percent of book challenges. Let us know if there is a challenge in your community. Find out what the policy is for reviewing challenged materials at your school or public library. Join the Intellectual Freedom Action News (IFACTION) e-list.
Get involved. Go to school board meetings. Volunteer to help your local school or public library create an event that discusses the freedom to read and helps educate about censorship–maybe a film festival, a readout, a panel discussion, an author reading or a poster contest for children illustrating the concept of free speech.
Speak out. Write letters to the editor, your public library director and your local school principal supporting the freedom to read. Talk to your neighbors and friends about why everyone should be allowed to choose for themselves and their families what they read. Encourage your governor, city council and/or mayor to proclaim Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read in your state or community.
Exercise your rights! Check out or re-read a favorite banned book. Encourage your book group to read and discuss one of the books. Give one of your favorite books as a gift. The 100 most challenged books of the 1990s is a good resource!
Join the Freedom to Read Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to the legal and financial defense of intellectual freedom, especially in libraries. You can also support the cause by buying Banned Books Week posters, buttons and T-shirts online.