This month we celebrate Banned Books Week. This is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information.
To celebrate and honor the freedom to read, staff have shared their favorite banned books this month.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. By Judy Blume
Challenged For: Portrayal of Religion, Discussion of Sexuality, Portrayal of Puberty.
I’m proud to say I’ve read many banned books at different points in my life, but in honor of Banned Books Week, my staff pick is Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. Blume’s books were a huge part of my pre-teen and teen years. What did I like about them? I saw myself in her characters. She wrote about things I was experiencing, questioning, or hearing about at school. More importantly, she did so in a matter of fact manner that validated what I was going through and let me know my feelings were “normal.” This was at a time when everything in my life was anything but normal (my world had recently imploded with my parents’ messy divorce).
In the case of Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, Margaret’s world was also messy. Her parents were an interfaith couple and Margaret is trying to figure out where she fits in. At the same time, she’s going through that special time known as puberty and wondering what the heck was going on with her body. Oh–and she had a crush on this cute boy at school. Because she doesn’t feel she can talk to her parents, she talks to God. I, too, felt I couldn’t talk to my parents, though for different reasons.
Judy Blume made me feel like the normal 12 year old kid that I was.
I read banned books. And I think I turned out pretty okay.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Challenged For: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
Choosing just one banned book as a personal favorite is not an easy task for me. Banned and challenged books hold a very special place in my heart. As a librarian, it has been my lifelong purpose to protect people’s right to read. I considered quite a few titles, but I decided to highlight a book I first read two decades ago – The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Its most recent ban was in a Texas prison in 2017 – it received the ban due to indecent language and violence. They aren’t wrong, there is plenty of both in Walker’s book, but there was also plenty of both for a woman of color to face in Georgia in the early 1900’s. Which is the main character of the book, Celie’s, station in life. The trauma of slavery and racism is evident in every action, of every character in this novel. This book is full of the hard subjects – incest, rape, abuse, sexual orientation, and ultimately what it meant to be black in a post-Civil War world in the South. Seeing this world through Celie’s eyes was haunting, painful, beautiful, and at times, even funny. Because Celie was all of those things too. Walker created a complex character with humble beginnings and shows you the beauty of women coming together, despite the pain they’ve experienced, to help each other. You’ll read about people doing the unthinkable, people at their cruelest, their weakest moments, and you’ll see what love can do in spite of it all. Ultimately, you will be reading about a very shameful time in this nation’s history, it will keep you up, it will upset you, and it most certainly should. I hope you chose to meet Miss Celie, or visit her again if you already have read this book before – she’s worth a revisit for sure.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
Captain Underpants Series by Dave Pilkey
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Challenged For: Profanity, violence, drug use, sexual references, “pervasively vulgar”, and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Looking for Alaska by John Green