September 24-October 1 is Banned Books Week, and ACLU staff and volunteers are posting their thoughts about the freedom to read throughout the week. Celebrate your First Amendment rights by attending one of the ACLU's Banned Books events or just by reading whatever you choose.
The hottest genre in the publishing world, known as YA for "young adult," is most frequently targeted by those who would tell you and your children what you should NOT read.
During the 2010-2011 school year, the number of books banned in Texas public schools numbered 17, down from 20 the year before. Although that is some progress, we've also found that very few school districts have a procedure to dispute a challenge or petition for reinstatement of a banned book. Once a book is banned, it is usually banned forever.
ACLU of Texas supporters have also organized events and banned books read-ins in San Antonio and Corpus Christi during Banned Books Week.
Many of the books challenged and banned in Texas this year are in the popular YA category, although at Cibolo Green Elementary School in San Antonio, Merriam-Webster's Visual Dictionary drew a parent's objection due to "sexual content or nudity." As a result of the challenge, the dictionary was placed in a restricted area of the library.
As hard as it is to get kids to "look it up," why make it harder by restricting access to the dictionary?
This example is typical of the extremes we've found every year during the 15-year history of the ACLU of Texas annual banned books report, "Free People Read Freely." For this report, we analyzed information provided by 750 Texas public school districts.
The beleaguered YA category, considered by many educators to have inspired new generations of readers, includes the Harry Potter and Captain Underpants series, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's "Alice" stories, Judy Blume's work, and more novels full of more vampires, dark angels, and zombies than you can shake a stick (or a clove of garlic) at.
Censorship of YA books is concerning because these books motivate youth to read, improve literacy levels, and drive interest in literature. They are also very relevant to youth, assisting them to make sense of the world and form their own ideas and values as they mature.
At this year's Texas Book Festival (Oct. 22-23) in Austin, I will join the first-ever "American Publishers' Banned Books" panel to discuss more about what is going on with the banning of YA and other genres, as well as how to safeguard freedom of access to the latest, most talked-about books and literary classics.
We urge parents to think long and hard before banning any age-appropriate book. Instead, concerned parents could, for example, use the content as a teaching opportunity to discuss societal values or affirm a family's religious teachings and moral beliefs.
Efforts by a single parent or a small group to ban a book and deny all students access to it infringes on the rights of other parents and students to make their own choices. Book banning is anathema to a free society.