Banned Books Week 2021

It’s Banned Books Week!

From The American Library Association’s website: “ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) receives reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country. We compile lists of challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship efforts that affect libraries and schools.”

This year's theme is "Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us."

Last year ALA 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 156 challenges, here are the top ten most challenged books of 2020.

  1. George by Alex Gino
    Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
  2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
    Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
  4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
  6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
    Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
  8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
  9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
  10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
    Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message


Here’s how the Horn Book reviewed 2020'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.


Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
adapted by Jason Reynolds from a book by Ibram X. Kendi
Middle School, High School    Little, Brown    300 pp.
3/20    978-0-316-45369-1    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-45370-7    $9.99

Reynolds insists from the first paragraph that “this is not a history book,” and he’s right; what instead he has created, in high rhetorical style, is a taking-to-account of American racism: how it got here, why it sticks around, why it needs to stop. Based on Kendi’s National Book Award–­winning Stamped from the Beginning (not read by this reviewer), this young reader’s edition begins its argument in the European explorations and conquests of the fifteenth century, proceeding through slavery in colonial America through the Black Lives Matter movement of today. It’s not an upward journey, though: the book takes a determinedly radical approach to racism and antiracism. Its heroes are John Brown, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis (very well profiled here) rather than Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., or Barack Obama. It’s a point of view rarely seen in books for young people, but much of the appeal will stem from its fondness for overbold statements, like identifying a fourteenth-century Portuguese writer as “the world’s first racist” only to contradict that claim with a reference to Aristotle within a few pages; and categorical thinking, like saying there were only two kinds of people in colonial America (farmers and missionaries) and, more generally, only three kinds of people in the world (racists, assimilationists, and antiracists). The casual voice is inviting if sometimes glib (comparing owning slaves to owning fancy sneakers, for example), but the joyful épater-ing of la bourgeoisie (e.g., Brown v. Board of Education is “actually a pretty racist idea”) offers lots to think and talk about. With source notes, an index, and a suggested reading list (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry). ROGER SUTTON

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


star2 All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
High School   Dlouhy/Atheneum   316 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-6333-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-6335-5   $9.99

Teens Rashad (who is African American) and Quinn (who is white) are high school classmates and not much more — neither even knows the other’s name. But when a quick stop at the corner store for a bag of chips on a Friday night suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, the two boys are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad as its victim and Quinn as its witness. During the week following the incident, and in alternating voices, the teens narrate events as Rashad deals with his injuries and the unwanted limelight as the latest black victim in the news; and as Quinn tries to understand how a cop he considers family could be capable of such unprovoked rage, and where his loyalties are now supposed to lie. Faced with an all-too-common issue, both narrators must navigate opposing views from their friends and families to decide for themselves whether to get involved or walk away. Written with sharp humor and devastating honesty, this nuanced, thoughtful novel recalls the work of Walter Dean Myers and is worthy of his legacy. Reynolds and Kiely explore issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse (ethnically and philosophically) cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in a racially tense America. ANASTASIA M. COLLINS

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


by Laurie Halse Anderson
Middle School, High School     Farrar     198 pp.     g
10/99     ISBN 0-374-37152-0     $16.00

Speaking out at the “wrong” time — calling 911 from a teen drinking party — has made Melinda a social outcast; now she barely speaks at all. A conversation with her father about their failed Thanksgiving dinner goes as follows: “Dad: ‘It’s supposed to be soup.’ / Me:      / Dad: ‘It tasted a bit watery, so I kept adding thickener . . . .’/ Me:     .” While Melinda’s smart and savvy interior narrative slowly reveals the searing pain of that 911 night, it also nails the high-school experience cold — from “The First Ten Lies They Tell You” (number eight: “Your schedule was created with your needs in mind”) to cliques and clans and the worst and best in teachers. The book is structurally divided into four marking periods, over which Melinda’s grades decline severely and she loses the only friend she has left, a perky new girl she doesn’t even like. Melinda’s nightmare discloses itself in bits throughout the story: a frightening encounter at school (“I see IT in the hallway . . . . IT sees me. IT smiles and winks”), an artwork that speaks pain. Melinda aches to tell her story, and well after readers have deduced the sexual assault, we feel her choking on her untold secret. By springtime, while Melinda studies germination in Biology and Hawthorne’s symbolism in English, and seeds are becoming “restless” underground, her nightmare pushes itself inexorably to the surface. When her ex-best-friend starts dating the “Beast,” Melinda can no longer remain silent. A physical confrontation with her attacker is dramatically charged and not entirely in keeping with the tone of the rest of the novel, but is satisfying nonetheless, as Melinda wields a shard of broken glass and finds her voice at last to scream, “No!” Melinda’s distinctive narrative employs imagery that is as unexpected as it is acute: “April is humid . . . . A warm, moldy washcloth of a month.” Though her character is her own and not entirely mute like the protagonist of John Marsden’s So Much to Tell You, readers familiar with both books will be impelled to compare the two girls made silent by a tragic incident. The final words of Marsden’s book are echoed in those of Speak, as Melinda prepares to share her experience with a father-figure art teacher: “Me: ‘Let me tell you about it.’” An uncannily funny book even as it plumbs the darkness, Speak will hold readers from first word to last. LAUREN ADAMS

From the September/October 1999 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie; illus. by Ellen Forney
Middle School, High School     Little     232 pp.
9/07     978-0-316-01368-0     $16.99     g

The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally — and hilariously and  triumphantly — bent in this novel about coming of age on the rez. Urged on by a math teacher whose nose he has just  broken, Junior, fourteen, decides to make the iffy commute from his Spokane Indian reservation to attend high school in Reardan, a small town twenty miles away. He’s tired of his impoverished circumstances (“Adam and Eve covered their  privates with fig leaves; the first Indians covered their privates with their tiny hands”), but while he hopes his new school will offer him a better education, he knows the odds aren’t exactly with him: “What was I doing at Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?” But he makes friends (most notably the class dork  Gordy), gets a girlfriend, and even (though short, nearsighted, and slightly disabled from birth defects) lands a spot on the varsity basketball team, which inevitably leads to a showdown with his own home team, led by his former best friend Rowdy. Junior’s narration is intensely alive and rat-a-tat-tat with short paragraphs and one-liners (“If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs”). The dominant mode of the novel is comic, even though  there’s plenty of sadness, as when Junior’s sister manages to shake off depression long enough to elope — only to die,  passed out from drinking, in a fire. Junior’s spirit, though, is unquenchable, and his style inimitable, not least in the take-no-prisoners cartoons he draws (as expertly depicted by comics artist Forney) from his bicultural experience. ROGER SUTTON

From the September/October 2007 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Read more about To Kill a Mockingbird here.


Read more about Toni Morrison here.


star2 The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    453 pp.
2/17    978-0-06-249853-3    $17.99

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives a life many African American teenagers can relate to: a life of double consciousness. Caught between her rough, predominantly black neighborhood and the “proper,” predominantly white prep school she attends, Starr has learned how to “speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people.” This precarious balance is broken when Starr witnesses the shooting of her (unarmed) childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. What follows is a gut-wrenching chain of events that alters all Starr holds dear. New relationships are forged, old ones are severed, and adversaries arise as Starr’s family, friends, school, and neighborhood react to Khalil’s death, including questioning who Khalil was, and whether his death was justified. Between her neighborhood’s “no-snitching” code and inaccurate media portrayals, Starr must decide whether or not to speak out — and her decision could endanger her life. With a title taken from rapper Tupac Shakur’s acronym THUG LIFE (“The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody”), the novel introduces numerous components of the urban experience, “thug life” included. From drug addicts to police officers, most characters are multifaceted, proving that Starr’s world is not all black or white (or black vs. white, for that matter). The story, with so many issues addressed, can feel overwhelming at times, but then again, so can the life of an African American teen. Debut author Thomas is adept at capturing the voices of multiple characters, and she ultimately succeeds in restoring Starr’s true voice. Thomas has penned a powerful, in-your-face novel that will similarly galvanize fans of Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down (rev. 11/14) and Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys (rev. 11/15). EBONI NJOKU

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.



Which banned books are you reading this week?

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Nancy Kolb

Reading these banned books:Bat books by Elana K. ArnoldThe Darkness Outside Us by Eliot SchreferThe Hate You Give by Angie ThomasAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds

Posted : Oct 03, 2021 05:10



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