Banned Books Week, Sept. 23 through Sept. 28, is an annual celebration of the freedom to read and is a popular week for libraries and bookstores to host events to draw attention to the problem of censorship.
One of the most read books of 2012 and 2013 was "50 Shades of Grey," by E.L. James.
It was also anticipated that James' racy book would top the list of banned or challenged books. However, it was number four.
Topping the list at number one was a popular children's book, "Captain Underpants" by Dav Pilkey. This is not the first time the children's book has been in at the top of the list. It has been challenged many times throughout the last decade.
The week of Sept. 23 through Sept. 28 is Banned Books Week. It is the annual celebration of the freedom to read and is a popular week for libraries and bookstores to host events to draw attention to the problem of censorship.
Robert Sturr Associate professor of English at Kent State University Stark said Banned Book Week is a way to encourage sharing of thoughts and ideas – even those that may be unpopular.
"Our society is really dependent upon a free flow of ideas,” Sturr said, “and if we stop that, we are running risks to our democracy and the education of our children.”
Banned Book Week first began in 1982 when a large number of books were challenged in schools, bookstores and libraries. Since that time more than 11,300 books have been challenged.
According to the American Library Association (ALA) website, the weeklong celebration "highlights the value of free and open access to information." Booksellers, publishers, journalists, librarians, teachers and readers are brought together in support of expressing ideas.
Books are often challenged because the content is not suitable for young readers and parents are usually behind the challenges. According to the ALA between 1990 and 2010 more than 10,000 challenges were filed on books. A challenge does not necessarily result in a book being banned from circulation. The questioned book is looked at carefully to determine if it is unsuitable. A wide variety of reasons for the challenge can range from the mention of suicide, contains sexually explicit content or is not suited for a particular age group.
"Captain Underpants" books have been challenged by educators and parents because of the "toilet humor" and the "attitudes" of the main characters. On the other side, some have praised the series for the fact it gets boys to read.
"My kids read it and it helped to develop their language skills,” Sturr said. “It is the kind of book children gravitate toward."
Sturr said there are places in the book that are vulgar and the characters use improper English and grammar.
"But if one book gets a kid reading, they are likely to move on to another book,” he siad. “If it excites them about going to the library, then I am in favor of it.”
Page 2 of 3 - In an article on bannedbooks.world.edu Pilkey does not consider this number one slot on the banned list to be a bad thing. The site qoutes Pilkey as saying, "It's pretty exciting to be on a list that frequently features Mark Twain, Harper Lee and Maya Angelou."
There is a difference between a challenge of a book or banning of a book.
Jennifer Welsh, Branch Manager for the Lake Community Branch of the Stark County District Library, said there is a wide range of viewpoints represented in children's literature at all levels and there are people who have concerns about any kind of social issues.
"Part of the public library role is trying to create an opportunity for all people to have access to those items when they want them or need them, while at the same time, trying to respect the fact that parents of all kinds are making decisions as to what they want their children to have access to," said Welsh. Those parents might challenge a book that could be, in their opinion, not in the correct section or not suitable for younger children. Welsh said this rarely happens .
Banning a book means it is taken off the shelves.
“We are passed an era when governments ban books,” Sturr said. “It used to cause book sellers to get arrested. That is gone these days. The battle is usually what goes into a library, what do school systems put into their curriculum and in that case there are choices to be made."
Sturr added that some material is best for older readers and some things should be put in a separate place, but he would hate to see loss of access to book because they were banned.
"I want to see as much information available in our libraries as possible and a wide range of materials taught in our schools, even if it makes people uncomfortable," Sturr said.
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has been on the banned or challenged list multiple times. It is a book Sturr has required for reading in his classroom. He said it is not a book he puts on reading lists carelessly or lightly. He thinks about how students will react to it and what conversations it could spark.
"I can't imagine not having it involved," said Sturr.
The book reflects the late 19th century culture of America as well as Mark Twain's view of that time period.
"It is much more complex,” Sturr said. “People see a word or certain language and they want to get rid of it. But, if you put it away, you will never talk about those underlying issues. I find it enormously valuable.”
Page 3 of 3 - Welsh said libraries try to respect the fact that parents of all kinds are making decisions as to what they want their children to have access to. She said they try to emphasize the fact, as a public library, they do not have legal supervision over children like a school does.
"We try to help guide people of different ages to different kinds of material," said Welsh. "The library does have a children's, young adult and adult sections and, by doing so, they are acknowledging that materials might be more appropriate for one age group than another."
Sturr cautions against allowing one group of people to make decisions for a diverse, broad community. There are gaps between books that a person, group of people or religious institution might find uncomfortable. He cited an example of Harry Potter books. When the books began to appear there were religious groups that found these works to be very dangerous and offensive and did not want them to be included in school libraries.
"Here 10 or 15 years later, these groups have said they find interesting things in the books as well as good lessons on value,” Sturr said. “That is a good warning not to ban books.”
Each library deals with the particular standards of its community. A book challenge is "a negotiation," Welsh said. School libraries have slightly different rules than public.
"Our effort is to never get to the point that we have to remove a book from one of our collections," said Welsh.
The Lake library will exhibit displays during Banned Book Week to show what titles have been on the challenged book list over the years. Welsh said people are often surprised to see which books have been challenged.
"A lot of great literature would be missed if we took out anything that anyone had an objection to," said Welsh.
Sturr said what makes Banned Book Week really important is to make sure the door is always open for reading.
For more information on banned or challenged books visit the American Library Association site www.ala.org.