As long as I can remember, I have been an avid reader and passionate about books. As a child, my ability to read while trapped with my parents, two step-brothers, and a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix in a car was a saving grace. In school, books were my escape and my catharsis – from curricula that wasn’t quite challenging enough, from peers that could shift from kind to cruel depending upon the day and the mood, and from life situations that were less than perfect and certainly not what television and society said they should be. What I was experiencing through my love of reading, I came to find out later in my educational career as a graduate student, was a form of bibliotherapy. I was connecting with a character, event, or situation in a book; relating to the elements of the story on an emotional level; identifying common threads between the story and my own life and using the process as an opportunity for self-examination and reflection; and implementing strategies developed from my self-reflection to address issues in my own life.
Those who know me know of my love of books. At one time in my life I even owned an antiquarian bookstore called Bookhaven. That’s how much I love books. Those who were students in my middle school and high school gifted and English classrooms (they are adults…many with their own children now) can attest to the book-laden shelves that housed our classroom libraries. Those who have been to my office on the college campuses where I have made my living since my K-12 teaching days, can describe the multiple bookshelves filled to overflowing with books. A common question from the first-time visitor…”Have you read them all?” The response is, “Yes.”
This week is Banned Books Week – September 22-28, 2013. It is an annual celebration of the freedom to read. This freedom, not only to choose what we read, but also to select from a full array of possibilities, is firmly rooted in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. According to the American Library Association, more than 11,300 books have been challenged or banned in schools bookstores and libraries since 1982. There were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported. Sex, profanity, and racism are the primary reasons books are challenged or banned from school reading lists or school library shelves.
Given that I work with adolescent females, one of my favorite types of fiction is the sub-genre of “young adult” or YA fiction. In my office, I have an entire shelf dedicated to current and classic YA titles. As I peruse that shelf now, I count 19 books whose titles/authors are on the frequently challenged or banned list. That doesn’t count my picture book collection or my classic literature collection (I was an English teacher, after all) or the books I have at home! So, what does that mean…these banned books that live in my office? Am I dangerous? Am I subversive? I suppose the answer will vary depending upon who you ask.
These are the books I read and talk about with my students if they so desire because they are the books that my students are reading! The subject matter may be dark, the language may coarse, the gender may be bending…but for my students it is real. For whatever reason, they are connecting with a character, an event, or a situation on an emotional level, interacting with the written word, and they are reflecting. For me those words on the page were a saving grace. I intend to do what I can to make sure that the next generation has the same opportunity I did to explore the written word unfettered and unapologetically.
Bibliotherapy literally translated means helping with books. There two major types of bibliotherapy: clinical and developmental. To learn more about the difference, visit the Bibliotherapy Education Project website at Central Michigan University.
The American Library Association has a plethora of information and resources available regarding Banned Book Week. I have listed a few of my favorites for you here.
This interactive map allows you to click on a point to see which book was banned or challenged for what reason and why. Pretty scary!
Compiled by the Office of Intellectual Freedom, this list of most frequently challenged books of the 21st Century brings into sharp focus the extent to which those who would censor the written word will go to prevent the free exchange of thought and ideas.
This list provides the most frequently challenged and banned works of classic literature. According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the top 100 novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts.
Last, but certainly not least, this is a list of the most frequently challenged authors of the 21st Century. Most of my favorite authors –YA and otherwise – are on this list somewhere, including Ellen Hopkins, Suzanne Collins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Robert Cormier, Stephen Chbosky, Lois Lowry, and S.E. Hinton.
I am always eager to engage in new conversations. Feel free to leave a comment on any of my blog posts or pages or send me an e-mail at email@example.com. All the best! ~Stephanie