by Margaret Kingsbury
Started in 1982 by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, Banned Books Weeks lists the top ten (in this case, eleven) challenged books in the United States using information compiled from media stories and voluntary challenge reports sent to the OIF. 2018’s list contains many books from previous years, with three new additions. There’s a definite emphasis on LGBTQ+ content being challenged, which is a frequent trend on these lists. I also noticed that the average target age for the books on 2018’s list is younger than in previous years, with many picture books included. This is especially disturbing since children are the least able to attain books themselves, and often rely on libraries and schools for their reading material.
Books are empowering. They give strength, acceptance, hope, and joy to readers everywhere. It’s essential that the books we read and provide to children contain diverse perspectives and celebrate the humanity in all of us. Here’s a list of the top eleven banned books from 2018, and the reasons they were banned. Information comes from the Banned Books Week website and the American Library Association.
#1. George by Alex Gino
Reasons: banned, challenged, and relocated because it was believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning “dirty magazines,” describing male anatomy, “creating confusion,” and including a transgender character
First published in 2015, George is a charming middle grade/early elementary school novel about a child who everyone believes to be a boy, but who is actually a girl. George really wants to star in her school play “Charlotte’s Web” as Charlotte, but that would mean coming out as transgender. It’s a perfect book for the classroom that can help explain what it feels like to be transgender and help transgender students to realize they’re not alone. This is the third year in a row it’s been on this list.
#2. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
Reasons: banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ content, and for political and religious viewpoints
How anyone can be so annoyed by a picture book is beyond me. The frequent bans have not affected sales at all. As of March 2018, this picture book had over 150,000 backorders. And while a lot of its popularity lies in its backstory–Last Week Tonight show host John Oliver came up with the idea as an LGBTQ+ friendly parody of Vice President Mike Pence’s pet bunny–kids love it too. Bunnies!
#3. Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple
Right … reading books causes disruptive behavior. Good luck finding any evidence whatsoever to prove that. In fact, the Captain Underpants early chapter book series is a gateway into reading for many children. I’ve given sets to two of my nephews, who adore them. They’re funny and silly and perfect for seven- and eight-year-olds. It’s appeared on the top ten list six times.
#4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: banned and challenged because it was deemed “anti-cop,” and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references
This was one of my favorite books of 2017. It’s a powerful Black Lives Matter YA novel, with an amazing protagonist and voice. I also highly recommend Angie Thomas’ second novel On the Come Up. The Hate U Give is the perfect high school English read for exploring contemporary issues and how literature can illuminate and provide depth and context to a political movement. It was also on last year’s list.
#5. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ characters and themes
This is the fourth time Drama has appeared on the list of most banned books. While I haven’t read this middle-grade graphic novel, I can attest to its popularity. It’s frequently asked for at the bookstore I work at.
#6. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons: banned, challenged, and restricted for addressing teen suicide
Another frequently banned book, Thirteen Reasons Why has appeared on the list three times. While the book has been justly criticized for romanticizing suicide, it can also be a starting point for talking about suicide and its representation in media to teenagers.
#7. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and certain illustrations
Somehow, graphic novels can pack so many important themes into a tiny amount of text, and do so more effectively than a prose piece. This multiple award-winning YA graphic novel is a perfect example of that.
#8. Skippyjon Jones series written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
Reason: challenged for depicting stereotypes of Mexican culture
There are legitimate reasons for skipping the Skippyjon Jones series, which portrays harmful and demeaning stereotypes of Mexicans. However, there’s a difference between banning a book and just not buying the book. Instead of banning, schools can avoid buying copies. If a student or child reads any book from the series, it can be a jumping-off place for discussing “stories that can be fun and funny but also hurtful because of the way that they caricature Mexican culture and reduce it to a bunch of stereotypes.”
#9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: banned and challenged for sexual references, profanity, violence, gambling, and underage drinking, and for its religious viewpoint
This book is one of the most banned ever and has been in the top ten seven times. There actually is a legitimate reason for avoiding this book, though not for any of the reasons listed above. Author Sherman Alexie has at least ten accusations of sexual misconduct. While this book doesn’t suggest any of that, I wholeheartedly approve of not supporting authors accused of sexual harassment. However, this book can also lead to interesting and important discussions about problematic favorites and whether an author’s personal life should affect the reading.
#10. This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Reason: challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content
This Day in June was burned along with three other books by a religious leader in Iowa last October. Though this picture book was published in 2014, it’s the first time on the top banned book list. It’s a charming picture book about Pride parades, and I hope more people will read it now that it’s on this list, an unexpected boon for banned books!
#11. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Reason: challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content
Two Boys Kissing is an innovative and empowering YA novel about two teenage boys, Harry and Craig, who decide to try and break the Guinness Book of World Records by marathon kissing. Chapters alternate between the marathon kissers, a Greek Chorus of gay men lost to AIDS, and other LGBTQ+ youth who are inspired by their story.
Now, it’s time to go read some banned books!