Intellectual Freedom

Banned Books Week 2021

As August quickly fades into September, students are heading back to the classroom, the weather begins to change, and the anticipation of pumpkin spice is in the air. For the library universe, it is also the perfect time to begin planning for Banned Books Week, scheduled to take place from September 26th through October 2nd this year.

If you’ve worked in libraries for any length of time, chances are you’ve had a title challenged for something in its content that someone felt was inappropriate. Children’s literature is especially vulnerable, as parents question books that use “vulgar” language, contain sexual references, or dare to challenge the status quo of society.

On the ALA Banned and Challenged Books website, it is stated that

The American Library Association promotes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.

The theme for Banned Books Week this year is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” What a timely message for the state of our world. A coworker and I were recently discussing how that is what we need—unity. The constant battles between people who have differing opinions (about an endless list of topics) is exhausting. Libraries have the opportunity to use Banned Books Week as a model of what happens when a few try to make decisions for everyone based on their personal beliefs.

A fun activity that I do with my classes is “mad libs” to reinforce parts of speech while writing silly stories. One suggestion I found in looking for ideas was to create a mad lib from a page in a banned title. This is a great opportunity to discuss writer’s freedom of word choice. Since my focus is elementary level, using a Captain Underpants (Pilkey) book works well. Their popularity opens the door to talking about how not everyone agrees with the author’s writing style. Here are sample mad libs from other banned books or you can create your own with a favorite title.

Searching for creative ideas to promote banned books yields a myriad of results. Some have incorporated a cage or pet crate and locked the books inside. Another idea is to shred pages from a title and see if patrons can guess what it is. This can also be done using quotes from different banned books, perhaps incorporating it into a contest (complete with prizes, of course). Guthrie Memorial Library provides a crossword puzzle with clues related to banned titles. The Banned Books Week site offers a handbook filled with many suggestions to make it a fun and educational time. ALA offers information, downloads, and other resources on the Banned and Challenged Books site.

As I often tell my students when we focus on Earth Day each spring, the theme of banned books needs to be an ongoing project and not stop once the title week is over. So, get creative, promote those titles that some may find questionable, and use it as an opportunity to broaden the perspectives of your patrons.

Becki Bishop has worked in libraries for 26 years and is currently a library media specialist in Bassett, Virginia. She is also a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. Please note that, as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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