May 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ’s Resources On Banned Books and Censorship

“Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” —Article 3, Library Bill of Rights

Fighting censorship and limited access to materials is an integral part of a librarian’s mission and job description. Launched in 1982, Banned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since then. The following articles include School Library Journal’s news coverage of challenged books, interviews with oft-banned authors, and tools for showcasing censored titles during Banned Books Week, and all year.

Features and Interviews About Banned and Challenged Books

Teaching With Graphic Novels
By Brigid Alverson

While graphic novels are increasingly used as teaching tools, their strong imagery can be a double-edged sword.

Resources for Teaching Graphic Novels in the Classroom
By Brigid Alverson, Robin Brenner, and Eva Volin

Good stuff: ten great graphic novels for schools; online resources; information about publishers; and other recommended reading.

10 Frequently Challenged Graphic Novels | Banned Books Week
By Brigid Alverson, Robin Brenner, and Eva Volin

To kick off Banned Books Week 2014—celebrating graphic novels—SLJ presents a list of 10 frequently challenged titles in this format.

Graphic Novels a ‘Gateway to Adult Literacy,’ Claims Study
By Gary Price

Graphic novels and video games have become integral to library collections, and both media can have a large impact on circulation, according to a University of South Florida study. Moreover, readership stats “bolster the concept of graphic novels as a gateway to adult literacy.”

What You Should Know About Banned Websites Awareness Day, September 24
By Michelle Luhtala

As part of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Banned Books Week campaign to raise awareness about the impact of censorship on intellectual freedom, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) also celebrates Annual Banned Websites Awareness Day.

NYPL Censorship Salon Focuses on Self-Censorship, Book Rating Trend
By Mahnaz Dar

The speakers at the New York Public Library (NYPL) Children’s Literary Salon, “This Censorious World: Books for Children and Their Challenges” discussed pressing censorship issues surrounding children’s literature, from self-censorship by authors and librarians to schools that rate titles for appropriateness.

Intellectual Freedom 101: Strategies for School Libraries
By Karyn M. Peterson

Among the dozens of concurrent learning sessions at the 2013 American Association of School Librarians’ National Conference, a popular theme was that of intellectual freedom.

Banned Books Week: Celebrate the Right to Read
By Karyn M. Peterson

Banned Books Week is an annual opportunity during the last week of September for librarians and other freedom fighters to celebrate banned and challenged books, shine a spotlight on censorship, and honor those heroes working for open access to materials and the right to read for all. See how librarians around the country mark the occasion.

ALA to Spotlight Banned Books Week Heroes During Virtual Read-Out
By SLJ Staff

The American Library Association (ALA) and readers from around the world are demonstrating their support for free speech from September 22-28 by participating in a Virtual Read-Out of their favorite banned and challenged books. The event will serve as the backdrop for the announcement of ALA’s Banned Books Week Heroes, honoring those people and groups who stand up for intellectual freedom and the right to read.

A Dirty Little Secret: Self-Censorship
By Debra Lau Whelan

Self-censorship is rampant and lethal. It’s a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books—those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections. The reasons range from a book’s sexual content and gay themes to its language and violence—and it happens in more public and K–12 libraries than you think.

SLJ Self-Censorship Survey
By Debra Lau Whelan

To gain a better understanding of collection development and the issue of self-censorship, School Library Journal conducted an anonymous survey, which was emailed to 5,438 of SLJ‘s Extra Helping subscribers on November 18, 2008. The survey closed on December 2, 2008.

Ellen Hopkins, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and Chris Finan are Honored for their Roles Battling Literary Censorship
By Rocco Staino
New York Times-bestselling author Ellen Hopkins, Newbery medalist Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and First Amendment activist Chris Finan were all recognized by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) on November 12 for their work defending free speech.

A Killer Story: An Interview with Suzanne Collins, Author of ‘The Hunger Games’

By Rick Margolis
SLJ interviews Suzanne Collins, author of the blockbuster young adult novel series, “The Hunger Games,” which continuously makes it on ALA’s most frequently challenged books.

NCAC Film Fest Celebrates Free Expression
By Mahnaz Dar

A host of teen filmmakers were on hand at the New York Film Academy for Youth Voices Uncensored, a screening of the winners of The National Coalition Against Censorship’s Youth Free Expression Project’s film contest, which tackled the topic of book banning.

What to Do When Kids Aren’t Allowed to Read Digital Books in School
By Kathy Ishizuka
Pat Scales, chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and SLJ columnist, regularly fields questions on banned library materials. But “this is the first I’ve encountered in which a book’s format has been censored,” she writes.

Editor Marks Banned Books Week by Being Locked Up at Vonnegut Memorial Library
By Lauren Barack

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is expecting an unusual window display starting September 30—writer and editor Corey Michael Dalton plans to mark Banned Books Week by camping out there to demonstrate the value of our freedom to read.

Interview: Why Lauren Myracle’s Proud to Top ALA’s List of Most Challenged Books
By Debra Lau Whelan

On the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read, SLJ talks with bestselling author Lauren Myracle, who ranked number one on the American Library Association’s top 10 most frequently challenged books in 2011 and 2009—and who also made the list in 2008 and 2007.

The Naked Truth: Librarians Stood By Maurice Sendak, No Stranger to Controversy
By Kathleen T. Horning

Former ALA President and current director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the School of Education, Kathleen T. Horning celebrates the librarians that stood up to intended censorship of Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen.

News Coverage on Banned and Challenged Books

Texas Pastor Attempts to Ban “Twilight” from Austin Memorial Library
By Mahnaz Dar

A Texas pastor attempted to have 75 paranormal YA titles, including Twilight, removed from the Austin Memorial Library on the basis that they are inappropriate for young people.

“Gay Penguin” Book Allowed to Remain in Singapore Libraries
By Carolyn Sun

The National Library Board in Singapore (NLB) announced that all copies of the children’s books And Tango Makes Three, among others, have not only been banned from the state’s collections, but would be pulped due to the books’ themes of homosexuality.

Request to Ban ‘Two Boys Kissing’ from Virginia High School Library Denied
By Sandy Chung

On April 23, Virginia’s Fauquier County Public Schools held a review and public hearing to consider a parent’s appeal to remove David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing—an LGBTQ-themed book—from the school district’s libraries. The board voted a unanimous decision to keep the title in the school district’s libraries.

Idaho’s Meridian School District Votes to Keep Hold on ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’
By Carolyn Sun

According to the Idaho Statesman on April 2, Idaho’s Meridian County School Board voted 2-1 to continue the hold on Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, keeping it off the school curriculum’s supplemental book list.

North Carolina School Board Decides to Keep The House of Spirits
By Carolyn Sun

On February 27, North Carolina’s Watauga County School Board voted, 3-2, to keep Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits in the sophomore honors English curriculum.

Poetry Book by Teens Removed from Arizona School
By Lauren Barack

Sixth and seventh graders in the Mesa Public Schools will have to trek to their local library or high school to read Things I Have to Tell You, a collection of poems by teenagers that has been removed from the junior high school libraries in this Arizona community.

Reading, PA, Students Protest Classroom Library Probe
By Lauren Barack

Middle school students in Reading, PA, created an online petition in December 2013 to protest what they see as unjust scrutiny of their classroom libraries.

NY District Returns ‘Nasreen’s Secret School’ to Third Grade Classrooms
By Lauren Barack

In the Southold (NY) Union Free School District, third graders can continue to hear the story of a young girl’s experience under Taliban rule, as told in Jeanette Winter’s book, Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, even after a question about its appropriateness was raised in a school board meeting in October 2013.

Library Advocates File Brief to Challenge Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Ban
By Karyn M. Peterson

The nonprofit Freedom to Read Foundation, joined by key library and learning advocates, on November 25, 2013 filed an amicus brief with the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Arce v. Huppenthal, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of an Arizona statute that bans ethnic studies.

Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Eleanor & Park’ Retained in Minnesota High School
By Karyn M. Peterson

A review committee at Minnesota’s Anoka High School agreed to retain Rainbow Rowell’s lauded young adult novel Eleanor & Park in its school library, despite a complaint from a parent who had partnered with the conservative Parents Action League to challenge the book.

Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ Returned to New Mexico High School Classrooms
By Karyn M. Peterson

Neil Gaiman‘s bestselling urban fantasy novel Neverwhere has been restored to the curriculum at New Mexico’s Alamogordo High School, ending a temporary suspension due to a parental challenge.

‘Golden Domes’ Picture Book Causes Stir at Scholastic Book Fair
By Shelley Diaz

A parent in Marietta, GA, lodged a complaint with his local school board about the inclusion of Hena Khan’s picture book Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors at his daughter’s Scholastic Book Fair on October 17. Thomas Prisock claims that the book is “an indoctrination of Muslim culture.”

NC School Board Reverses Ban on Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’

By SLJ Staff

The Randolph County (NC) Board of Education has voted to restore Ralph Ellison’s classic novel Invisible Man to school library shelves by a vote of 6 to 1, reversing its earlier ban of the book. This ban which took place in mid-September 2013 received international attention from literary advocates.

Atwood’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Retained in Guilford County (NC) High Schools

By SLJ Staff

Margaret Atwood’s award-winning dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale will remain accessible to 12th graders in Guilford, NC, high school libraries, following a local school board vote to retain the book on its suggested reading list.

NCAC: School Visits Nixed for Medina, Rowell

By SLJ Staff

Planned school visits by YA authors Meg Medina and Rainbow Rowell set to coincide with Banned Books Week (September 22 to 28) have been cancelled due to local challenges over the content of their acclaimed books, the National Coalition Against Censorship reports.

Morrison’s ‘Bluest Eye’ Joins Wide Range of Books Challenged in Alabama Schools
By Sarah Bayliss and Karyn M. Peterson

Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel The Bluest Eye could become the latest in a wide range of books that have been officially challenged in Alabama’s 132 school districts in recent years, if State Senator Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, has his way.

Alexie’s ‘True Diary’ Removed from NYC School’s Summer Reading List

By Shelley Diaz

The inclusion of Sherman Alexie’s acclaimed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on a required summer reading list for sixth graders has raised the ire of a group of parents in Belle Harbor, NY, who have successfully called for its removal, the Daily News has reported.

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ Restored to IL Classrooms
By SLJ Staff

Steven Chbosky’s epistolary coming-of-age tale The Perks of Being a Wallflower is being restored to eighth-grade classrooms in Glen Ellyn District 41, a suburb of Chicago, following a recent challenge over concerns about the book’s sexual content and explicit language.

YA Books Remain on School Library Shelves After Yakima, WA, Challenges
By Karyn M. Peterson
Two very different young adult books—the first volume of Amy Ignatow’s lively graphic novel series “The Popularity Papers” and Dave Pelzer’s harrowing memoir A Child Called It—will both remain on school library shelves in the Prosser school district in Yakima, WA, following several school board votes on the titles.

Michigan School District Rejects Parent’s Challenge to Anne Frank’s Diary

By Marta Murvosh

A Michigan parent’s complaint that Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition is too frank for middle schoolers and should be replaced with an older, expurgated edition has been rejected by the local school board.

‘Persepolis’ Restored to Chicago School Libraries; Classroom Access Still Restricted

By Karyn M. Peterson

After a directive by Chicago Public Schools to restrict student access for all grades below 11 to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett quickly issued a memo clarifying that the graphic novel should remain on library shelves. However, educators remain wary about the classroom restrictions, prompting the ALA’s Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation to respond.

Polacco’s ‘In Our Mothers’ House’ Restored to Utah School Library Shelves

By SLJ Staff

Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House, an acclaimed picture book about a family with two mothers, is finally back on K–6 school library shelves in Utah’s Davis School District, more than eight months after a committee pulled the book and restricted its access.

ACLU Files Suit Against Utah School District for Removing Polacco’s ‘In Our Mothers’ House’ from General Circulation
By Sarah Bayliss
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation has filed suit against a Utah school district that removed In Our Mothers’ House, a picture book about a family with two mothers from school library shelves.

‘And Tango Makes Three’ Tops Most Challenged List, Again
By SLJ Staff

And Tango Makes Three (2005), the true story of two male penguins who hatch and parent a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo, tops the list of the most frequently challenged books of 2010, according to the American Library Association’s (ALA) State of America’s Libraries Report, which documents challenges and trends in library usage.

Ban on John Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska’ Sparks Anger
By Lauren Barack
A Tennessee school district banned John Green’s award-winning novel Looking for Alaska (Dutton, 2005) from the school curriculum. Jeremy Johnson, spokesperson for Sumner County Schools, where the book was pulled, says “We’re not using it in the curriculum, but it will still be used in the libraries.”

Anderson’s Speak Under Attack, Again
By Rocco Staino
Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor of management at Missouri State University, is cautioning parents of the Republic School District against what he refers to as “soft porn” books used in the curriculum, including Speak, which is about rape. School Library Journal spoke to author Laurie Halse Anderson about the controversy.

Blogs and Columns

Scales on Censorship
By Pat Scales

In a bimonthly column, Chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) Committee Pat Scales responds to questions about book banning, equal access for all students, and why reporting materials challenges to the ALA OIF is so important.

Roundtable: Should Parents Limit Comics Reading?
By Esther Keller

Limit comics reading to only one day a week? Are reading comics and prose equal? Are comics “real” reading? In an article titled “Why My Daughter Isn’t Allowed to Read Comics,” Jonathan Liu at GeekDad posted that he and his wife have limited their daughter’s comics reading to one day a week to ensure she would pick up some prose novels. As a mix of parents, librarians, and educators, we thought we’d join the discussion.

Roundtable: Removing Persepolis from Chicago classrooms | Good Comics for Kids
By Brigid Alverson

The recent removal of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis from some classrooms in the Chicago Public schools attracted a lot of attention. Although it first appeared that all the books were being removed, it turned out that the school district had had second thoughts about teaching it to seventh-graders, largely because of a single page depicting torture. For this roundtable, two of Good Comics for Kids bloggers who have expertise in working with tweens and teens chime in.

Discussion: The Sidescrollers controversy | Good Comics for Kids
By Brigid Alverson

A Connecticut mother objected to the inclusion of Matt Loux’s Sidescrollers on a summer reading list for incoming high school freshmen. Three of bloggers address this question from their points of view: Robin Brenner is a young adult librarian in a public library, Esther Keller is a school librarian in a middle school, and Lori Henderson is the mother of a teenage girl. Here’s their take on the situation.

Roundtable: Americus | Good Comics for Kids

By Esther Keller

Librarians are often at the forefront of censorship battles. But they are not the only ones affected. Most often it is children and ordinary citizens that suffer when their freedom to read is compromised. First Second Publishers released a graphic novel that grapples with these topics. Originally serialized at, Americus is now a published graphic novel.

How do you handle challenges and censorship in schools? | Practically Paradise

By Diane Chen
School librarians receive training in graduate programs on Collection Development and Material Challenges. Yet most school librarians go years without receiving challenges so we could use a refresher. What does the ALA OIF say the first steps school librarians should take when they receive a challenge?