If you enter a library or bookstore in the month of October, chances are you’ll see a Banned Books display. Librarians and book sellers are doing their best to draw you into a hot button issue: censorship. When we celebrate Banned Books Week this year, October 1–7, we celebrate our right to read whatever we want, whenever we want, for whatever reason. According to the American Library Association, it’s time to “Let Freedom Read.” Banned Books Week allows people to celebrate stories that have been challenged and banned, reflect our own viewpoints of censorship and practice critical thinking.
The American Library Association (ALA) recently released their 2022 report for banned and challenged books, and the data reflects a kaleidoscope of divisiveness in our current society. In their report, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom noted 1,269 challenges from last year, which is the highest number of challenges recorded since data collection began 20 years ago. Challenges covered various forms of media, 82% from books with the remainder split between programs, displays, films, databases, artwork, music, social media and online resources. Surprisingly, picture books are also highly challenged. Penguins, babies, worms and even gratefulness are all topics found in repeatedly-challenged picture books from 2022, according to Pen America.
As a storyteller, I think about the data from book bans and challenges, of course, but I can’t help but wonder why. Picture books are a powerful tool for parents and educators to reach a variety of readers. With a deceptively simple structure, a picture book can often pull your heart out onto its pages and ask you to feel something, to learn something. Is that what people are afraid of? To feel? To know?
The power of critical thinking
If I’m going to ask questions of others, I need to be able to ask them of myself. In their book, “Raising Critical Thinkers: A parent’s guide to raising wise kids in the digital age,” author Julie Bogart states, “The ability to evaluate evidence, to notice bias as it kicks into gear, to consider a variety of perspectives (even if they make you uncomfortable), and then to render a possible verdict—what you believe to be true, for now—is the heart of the critical thinking task.”
This is no small feat, but if as adults we can stop and think about our bias, we are on the way to fewer book bans and more collaborative discussions. By taking the time to think about our thinking, we can open our minds to other perspectives. Through our open-mindedness we can realize: no one should make decisions for others about what to read. Reading is personal and the right to do so is universal. When we ban or challenge books due to our own perspectives, fears or beliefs, we run the risk of saying that certain groups of people don’t belong in learning spaces. What we decide for our children and families is one thing, but making those decisions for others becomes murky.
This year during Banned Books Week, I’d like for us all to read a book that sparks something in us, especially if it makes us weary or concerned. When we branch out and read stories from other perspectives, we can participate in active critical thinking. Share what you read on social media, talk about it with your friends and community. Through conversations we can expand our perspectives and see that everyone has a story to tell and everyone deserves to be heard.
I’m not sure what the root of book challenges are or if we can stop them. The sharp increase in bans and challenges over the last year are alarming and it is easy to feel anxious about it. All I know is what I can control: my to-be-read shelf. I’ll continue to read the stories that others want to hide, if only for the hope it gives me a new perspective, that it takes my heart out and asks me to feel. Then I can pass them on to my friends and hope it does the same thing for them.
Want to join me? Here’s a list to get you started:
Banned books to read now
"Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag" by Rob Sanders
A tribute to Harvey Milk’s legacy and the Rainbow Flag, celebrating the courage to embrace our authentic selves and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.
"I Am Jazz" by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
An autobiographical narrative sharing the life and experiences of Jazz Jennings, a transgender person.
"And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Based on a true story of penguins, Roy and Silo from the Central Park Zoo, who formed a same-sex partnership and raised a penguin chick named Tango.
"The Baby Tree" by Sophie Blackall
Straightforward and informative, this picture book addresses the question of reproduction and childbirth.
"Separate Is Never Equal: Syliva Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation" by Duncan Tonatiuh
This nonfiction picture book tells the story of Sylvia Mendez and her family’s legal battle against school segregation in California, prior to Brown vs. Board of Education.
"Worm Loves Worm" by Mike Curato
Two worms decide to get married, but gender roles are explored when everyone begins wondering who will wear a dress and who will wear a tux.
"Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale" (graphic novel) by Art Spiegelman
A dual narrative exploring Spiegelman’s struggles to understand and document his painful family history and how he explores his father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor.
“Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe
Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, first wrote this autobiography covering eir journey of self-discovery as a guide for eir family to detail what it means to be non-binary and asexual.
“Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
Recently fired from his landscaping job and unsure of his future, Mike Muñoz goes on a journey of self-discovery and finds his own version of the American Dream along the way.
“All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson
This young adult memoir written by LGBTQIA+ activist and journalist George M. Johnson details growing up as a Black queer boy in New Jersey and Virginia.
“Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez
Set in 1937 in a deeply segregated Texas town, this work of historical fiction tells the story of family, racial issues and romance between Naomi Vargas, who is Mexican American, and Wash Fuller, who is Black.
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
When a police officer fatally shoots Starr’s childhood friend Khalil, she becomes the witness to a crime that makes national headlines. What she decides to say will impact her life and community in unimaginable ways.
Want more? Check out the Top 13 Most Challenged Books of 2022.
Editor's note: This article was originally published a few years ago and was updated most recently in 2023. This article contains affiliate links. If you purchase products through links on our site, ParentMap may earn an affiliate commission.
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