Banned Books Week 2020

It’s Banned Books Week!

From The American Library Association’s website: “Every year, the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles a list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The lists are based on information from media stories and voluntary challenge reports sent to OIF from communities across the United States.”

This year's theme is "Censorship is a dead end. Find your freedom to read!"

ALA has also released a list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books of the Decade. Look for Banned Books Week events in your area to get involved. And don't miss reading Pat Scales's "What Makes a Good Banned Book?" (from the September/October 2009 Horn Book Magazine).


Based on 377 challenges, here are the top ten most challenged books of 2019.

  1. George by Alex Gino
    Reasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
  2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
  3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
    Reasons: Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
  4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    Reasons: Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate”
  5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
    Reasons: Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
  6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    Reasons: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
  8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
  9. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
    Reasons: Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
  10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole
    Reason: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content


Here’s how the Horn Book reviewed 2019's most challenged children’s and young adult books:


by Alex Gino
Intermediate    Scholastic    198 pp.
9/15    978-0-545-81254-2    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-545-81258-0    $16.99
George is, outwardly, a boy. But inside, she is a girl, and now that she is ten, that disconnect is becoming impossible to endure. She tries to tell her (single) mother, but Mom doesn’t seem ready for that conversation. Desperate, George decides to try out for the part of Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web: maybe if Mom sees her playing a girl’s part, Mom will be able to see who she really is. There are setbacks along the way (the teacher refuses to let a boy audition for Charlotte; Mom discovers and confiscates George’s cache of girls’ magazines; bullies harass her), but with the help of a few supportive allies, particularly best friend Kelly, George prevails. By the last chapter, George has become “Melissa” — all girl, at least for one perfect day on an outing with Kelly, and clearly a preview of what life has in store for her. George isn’t without flaws: the mother’s sudden about-face is too sudden, and author Gino can employ a heavy hand (Mom’s response to one of George’s early overtures: “You will always be my little boy, and that will never change. Even when you grow up to be an old man, I will still love you as my son”). But the heart of this novel — for slightly younger readers than Ami Polonski’s similarly themed and plotted Gracefully Grayson (rev. 11/14) — is George’s achingly poignant struggle to be herself, and that heart beats strong and true. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO
From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
by Susan Kuklin
High School    Candlewick    182 pp.
2/14    978-0-7636-5611-9    $22.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7035-1    $22.99
Rather than attempting to convey the spectrum of transgender experience through a multitude of voices, Kuklin tries something different here, focusing on just six young people whose gender identity is something other than what it was labeled at birth. All six take gender-altering hormones; four were birth-designated male and two female, but in all cases there is no confusion about who they are now. Christina, born Matthew, looks forward to a complete transition (“It would be so great if I could get an operation, if I could get my vagina”), while Cameron says, “I like to be recognized as not a boy and not a girl. I’m gender queer, gender fluid, and gender other.” In her edited transcriptions of the interviews, Kuklin lets her subjects speak wholly for themselves, and while their bravery is heartening, their bravado can be heartbreaking. But who expects teenagers to be tentative? Photographs (of most of the subjects) are candid and winning; and appended material, including Kuklin’s explanation of her interview process, a Q&A with the director of a clinic for transgendered teens, and a great resource list, is valuable. ROGER SUTTON
From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


"Last Week Tonight wtih John Oliver" presents A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo
by Marlon Bundo and Jill Twiss; illus. by EG Keller
Primary    Chronicle    40 pp.
3/18    978-1-4521-7380-1    $18.99
Vice President Pence's daughter's (real-life) pet bunny relates falling in love with another boy bunny, to the consternation of overbearing, obnoxious, in-charge (read: president) Stink Bug: "Boy Bunnies Marry Girl Bunnies...This Is the Way It Has Always Been. You. Are. Different. And Different Is Bad." As satire, this is lots of fun (and effective: "Stink bugs are temporary. Love is Forever"); as a picture book, it's a little scattered. Adorable progressive-leaning critters populate the illustrations. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ
From the Spring 2019 issue of The Horn Book Guide.


Prince & Knight
by Daniel Haack; illus. by Stevie Lewis
Primary    Little Bee    40 pp.
5/18    978-1-4998-0552-9    $17.99
A prince must choose a bride, but all the women he meets lack...something. He realizes what's missing when a knight in shining armor saves him from a dragon. The simplistic story works as a valentine to same-sex love, but several verses stumble over themselves to complete a rhyme; the glossy illustrations conjure classic Disney movie stills. NELL BERAM
From the Fall 2018 issue of The Horn Book Guide.


I Am Jazz
by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings; illus. by Shelagh McNicholas
Preschool, Primary     Dial     24 pp.
8/14     978-0-8037-4107-2     $17.99
A little girl describes how she was born with "a girl brain but a boy body" and that once her parents talked to a doctor to understand more about it, they let her be herself. There is little plot, but the straightforward text and friendly, pastel-hued watercolors fairly successfully simplify the issue of gender identity for a young audience and their caregivers. MAEVE VISSER KNOTH
From the Spring 2015 issue of The Horn Book Guide.


by Raina Telgemeier; illus. by the author; color by Gurihiru
Intermediate, Middle School     Graphix/Scholastic     238 pp.
9/12     978-0-545-32698-8     $23.99
Paper ed. 978-0-545-32699-5     $10.99     g
Like Telgemeier’s previous graphic novel, Smile (a 2010 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book), this new one will appeal to a wide range of readers. Seventh-grader Callie Marin loves musical theater, and though she isn’t much of a singer (which she good-naturedly proves to all in a hilarious scene), she expresses and fulfills her passion by working as a set designer for the school drama club. Her second year on stage crew turns out to be fraught with drama, on and off the set. Not only is the musical a love story, but in real life Callie has a crush on eighth-grader Greg, whose younger brother (and fellow stage-crew member) has a secret crush on Callie. Greg, however, is dating Bonnie, who dumps him for her costar in the play, West, who eventually dumps her for the boy whom Callie has just begun to like. Then Greg asks Callie out. Phew! But Telgemeier handles it all with aplomb and, despite the romantic drama, nothing happens beyond a few innocent kisses. She gets her middle-school characters just right — from kids who, like Justin, are gay and know it (“Gay? You can say it! I don’t mind”) to those who, like Callie, wouldn’t recognize a gay guy if he clasped his hands and squee-ed over musical auditions, as Justin does when they first meet. As in Smile, Telgemeier’s graphic artist skills make this novel a pleasure to read and re-read; of special note is her thoughtful use of the page turn — for surprise, for a pause, for emotional effect. JENNIFER M. BRABANDER
From the September/October 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Reviews of the books in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series can be found here.


And Tango Makes Three
by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; illus. by Henry Cole
Preschool, Primary     Simon     32 pp.
06/05     0-689-87845-1     $14.95
Two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo court, build a nest, and raise their (adopted) daughter Tango. Highly anthropomorphized to maximize the sentimental but noteworthy lesson on family diversity, the story gains depth from the biological reality of same-sex penguin partnering. Gentle illustrations of the smiling penguin family add appeal, if not scientific accuracy, to this book based on a true story. DANIELLE J. FORD
From the Fall 2005 issue of The Horn Book Guide.


Which banned books are you reading this week?

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