A Parent’s Guide to Banned Books Week

What is Banned Books Week?
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

What makes a book “banned” or “challenged”?
A “challenge” means that someone has gone on record stating concerns or objections about the content of a book in a collection. Most challenges (44%) focus on materials found in school libraries, and many of these challenges are presented by parents (39%). If the administration of the school or other organization that received the challenge agrees, that entity may then ban the book so it’s no longer available within their collection.

What are the reasons that someone might challenge a book?
There are many reasons someone might challenge a book (even as simple as not liking the art on the cover), but the most frequent reasons cited are racial issues, perceived encouragement of “damaging” lifestyles, dialogue considered blasphemous, sexual situations or dialogue, violence or negativity, witchcraft or uncommon religious affiliations, political bias, or age inappropriateness.

What should I do if my child wants to read a banned or challenged book?
If your child expresses interest in a book that causes you concern, we encourage you to read the book yourself first or read along with your child and make the entire book a learning experience. If you let your child read it independently, take time to discuss issues you might have with the book. Or encourage your child to wait until they are at an age that might fit the subject matter better.

5 tips for Banned Books Week:
1. Visit the library
Libraries are for everyone, including you! The best way to find out for yourself what libraries are all about is to visit a public library in your community. Browse the stacks, attend a storytime, sign up for a library card, and ask about the library’s collections and resources for families like yours.
2. Use subject headings
If you know you’re sensitive to certain topics, avoid triggers by checking a book’s subject headings in the catalog before borrowing it from the library. When a book includes subject headings you wish to avoid, simply scratch the title from your TBR (to be read) list.
3. Learn more
Research topics that may be controversial or difficult to understand before reading about them in popular banned or challenged novels by searching for reliable and objectively accurate nonfiction titles so you can be better prepared to face them.
4. Communicate
Talk with your child about what they’re reading, and about your family’s beliefs and cultural values.
5. Ask for help
Librarians are a great resource for the conscientious parent. Ask a librarian for help finding age-appropriate reading material and for suggested books on topics of interest. A librarian can also help you find a discussion guide if you’re unsure how to structure a conversation or approach certain subjects with your child.