Books And More

Why Are Books Banned?

In honor of Banned Books Week, TFK takes a look at book censorship

September 30, 2016

Banned Book Week aims to shine a spotlight on book censorship.

What if you visited the library and the book you wanted to take out has been banned? It happens. Libraries and schools have been known to ban or restrict the usage of certain books. Why? How does it happen? And, what can someone do to get a book unbanned?

Each year the American Library Association (ALA) holds Banned Books Week to educate people about these issues. It aims to increase awareness about restricted book and celebrate the freedom to read. This year, Banned Books Week takes place from September 26-October 1.

The ALA does not support book banning. But, it receives reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books. The ALA compiles a list of challenged books in order to inform the public.

TFK talked to James LaRue, the director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, to find out about book censorship.


How do books become banned?


It happens when someone makes a formal complaint to a school or library to remove or restrict access of a certain book. Restricted access might mean that it is placed behind the desk so you have to ask a librarian for it. Or, they may place it in a secreting parenting collection that only a librarian knows about. It’s a way to make the book disappear. When a complaint is made, a person of power—such as a director of a library or a principal of a school—has to take a look at that complaint and approve or decline it. If a book is banned or removed from a school or library, it moves from challenged to restricted or banned.


Why are books banned?


The things that people complain about have changed a bit over time. We’ve been tracking this since 1990. At that time, most of the challenges fell into two categories: Racy language (swear words) or sexual content. But in 2015, 9 out of 10 of the most challenged books were by or about people of color, or religious minorities or disabilities. A person could say a kid’s book is harmful to minors. So, how do schools get away with it? They get it away with it because no one challenges it.


The Harry Potter book series was one of the most challenged book series from 2000 to 2009. But, it’s no longer on the top 10 most challenged. Do you know why that is?


When it came out, some people said the book was about Satan and promoted witchcraft. They said it should not be available in school libraries, and it was removed from many of them. One school said you needed to have a permission slip from your parent. A parent said that was wrong. It led to a famous court case called Counts v. Cedarville School District. The parents sued the school district and the Supreme Court said kids have the first amendment rights to receive information and they shouldn’t need a permission slip. After some time, many people took a look at Harry Potter and said this is about bravery and loyalty and family.


There’s been an increase in the number of books banned in schools each year. Why do you think that is?


I think it’s in part because there are fewer school librarians than there used to be. It used to be that librarians would study the library school of rights, which say you have the right to ask for anything and you should have access to information. If someone is filling in for a librarian, they might not know these rules. So, if a book is challenged, they might not know the process and will just remove the book. And no one talks about it. Censorship succeeds when there is silence.


What can kids do if they do not agree with the banned status of a book?


Speak up about it. One of the things you’ll notice about the most banned books list is that there are a lot of classics. You have people say, ‘I want this book removed’ and another says, ‘I love this book, this book changed my life.’ I think kids should ask, ‘Why do you want to ban this book? Have you read the entire book? Let’s all read it together and talk about it.’ Talk to your parents about getting a book unbanned. Think about writing a letter to the author and asking if he or she to will come speak at your school or library.


Talking about banning books in your classroom? Use these ALA book prompts to start a discussion:

Current subscribers log in/register for 

Registered Users Log In

Forgot Password?
Register Now for FREE
Subscriber Benefits
Do it now to get all this:
  • Access to Interactive Digital Editions
  • Online Archives of Past Lessons & Teachers' Guides
  • Interactive Teacher Community
Website Login Page