It’s that time of year again – Banned Books Week, a celebration by libraries across the country of our freedom to read despite objection to certain books.
Some things will always remain the same – some books will always be challenged, and libraries and schools will always fight to keep books available and preserve peoples’ freedom to read. But this year’s Banned Books Week features a striking new trend: Half of the top 10 challenged books of 2016 were illustrated narratives, more than ever before. And this year, the main reason for objection to books was sex and gender issues.
Last year’s most banned book, “This One Summer,” by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, is a case in point. The book is a coming-of-age graphic novel about two friends on the cusp of adolescence, and includes an unwanted teenage pregnancy, a miscarriage, and a suicide attempt. The American Library Association said it was “restricted, relocated and banned because it includes LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity,” and it was “considered sexually explicit with mature themes.” (It’s worth mentioning that it also received a Printz Honor and was the first graphic novel to receive a Caldecott Honor.)
Another graphic novel, “Drama,” by Raina Telgemeier, another coming of age story about friendships, crushes, and creative fulfillment set in a middle school drama production crew, was also on last year’s list because “it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.”
Three other books on the top 10 most challenged books list were also illustrated books, a new trend in challenged books. That may be because many graphic novels tackle topics like sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Of the top 10 books challenged in libraries, the top five were challenged for having LGBTQ content, which seems pretty significant,” Ms. Tamaki, author of the most challenged book of 2016, told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs.
Other illustrated inclusions on the list include children’s picture-book memoir “I Am Jazz,” written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas which was challenged “because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints,” according to the ALA.
“Comics are a powerful form of storytelling whose authors are discussing important, often uncomfortable issues,” Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an advocacy organization, told the Washington Post. “These are the stories readers need and want, and in certain cases, they’re the stories that some members of a community may feel threatened by. Those people don’t need to read these books, and they don’t need to bring them into their house.
“However, they can’t take them away from the rest of the community. When that kind of censorship happens, when individuals and parents aren’t allowed to make up their own minds about books, we are all diminished.”
Also on the list is the adult comic-book set “Big Hard Sex Criminals,” by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky because it was deemed sexually explicit; and the “Little Bill” children’s book series, because of “criminal sexual allegations” against its author, comedian Bill Cosby.
Transgender and homosexual themes were big on last year’s list. “George,” by Alex Gino, was challenged “because it includes a transgender child” and because the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels,” and the acclaimed “Two Boys Kissing,” by David Levithan, was challenged “because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content,” according to the ALA.
Banned Books was launched in 1982 as a response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries across the country. More than 11,300 books have been “challenged” since 1982, according to the ALA. It serves to highlight the continuing risk of censorship to celebrate our freedom to read.
As the ALA said in a statement, “While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.”
The 10 most challenged books in the US last year:
1. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: Challenged over LGBT characters, drug use and profanity. It was also considered sexually explicit, with mature themes.
2. Drama, written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: Challenged because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit and considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.
3. George by Alex Gino
Reasons: Challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”.
4. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Reasons: Challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and “offensive viewpoints”.
5. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Reasons: Challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit content.
6. Looking for Alaska by John Green
Reasons: Challenged for a sexually explicit scene that might lead a student to “sexual experimentation”.
7. Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction, illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
Reason: Challenged because it was considered sexually explicit.
8. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk
Reasons: Challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness and being “disgusting and all-around offensive”.
9. The Little Bill series by Bill Cosby and illustrated by Varnette P Honeywood
Reason: Challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author.
10. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Reason: Challenged for offensive language.