Understanding Challenged Books

September 20, 2016





Between the Lines is a series of posts focused on better understanding books, trends in writing, and the labels associated with these.


September 25th through October 1st, 2016 is Banned Books Week in the United States. This event was launched in 1982 as a response to surges in book challenging across the United States in schools, bookstores, and libraries. According to the American Library Association (ALA), more than 11,300 books have been challenged since the start of this advocacy week.


Wait. Is there a difference between challenging and banning a book?

Yes! A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict books based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those books.


Why does it matter if people challenge books?

This is a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Removing access to literature, no matter what it contains, is a restriction of free thought and speech. Censorship can be subtle, or blatant and overt, but it is always harmful. Just because someone, or a group of someone’s, finds an idea offensive or disagreeable does not mean that it’s right. After all, as Noam Chomsky says:

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.


Where are books challenged?


As you can see from this infographic, an overwhelming 92% of all challenged books are in spaces frequented by children.


 Who challenges books?


There is a wide range of people who challenge books. These people are often parts of groups with strong ethical, political, or religious beliefs. Sometimes, the group challenging books are not those who are the impetus for the change. In fact, it’s often due to outside pressure from parent groups or constituents. Check out this story about Tuscon Unified School District.


Why would people challenge books?


I personally assume that most books are challenged by these groups with the best of intentions. As most challenges are presented to school and library boards, it’s safe to assume that the key motivator is a desire to protect children from what the person(s) believe are inappropriate. However, most often attempts are done to suppress anything that conflicts or disagrees with their own beliefs.

As you can see from the infographic above, almost every cited reason has to do with diversity. Reflect on the situation in Tuscon above and the idea that “No history is illegal”. Race, religion, sexuality, and politics are often at the top of the list for removing content.

(My personal favorite is “unsuited for age group”– who gets to decide that?!)


What can I do?


So many things! Obviously, start with reading. Over the course of the week, I’ll be posting a few lists of banned book recommendations for you guys. But if you want to start hunting now, I strongly recommend checking out these resources:

You can also talk about these books. As the wonderful Naz over at Read Diverse Books mentioned in a recent post,

…our reviews do matter. Perhaps not individually, but collectively we can make a powerful statement with the books we choose to read and discuss.

Don’t blog? That’s okay! Here are some other ideas on how to get the word out:

  • Write book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, your library website etc.
  • Host book group discussions focusing on banned books
  • Write letters to the editor supporting the freedom to read and avoiding censorship
  • Tweet your opinions with the hashtag #bannedbooks or #bannedbooksweek

Look for some more awesome information on banned books throughout the next two weeks. I look forward to discussing with you!

What do you think?

  • Do you believe in the idea of challenging or banning books?
  • What is your favorite frequently challenged book?
  • Who in your life has most influenced your lofe of books and your right to read?
  • Which book would you be willing to go to jail defending?
  • Which banned book character would you want to have lunch with?


  • David Hollander September 20, 2016 at 9:48 am

    “Yes, books are dangerous. They should be dangerous – they contain ideas.” -Peter Hautman

    • Jackie B September 20, 2016 at 11:08 am

      “Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.” – Laurie Halse Anderson

  • thebookishlibra September 20, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Great topic! I used to teach high school English and challenged books always frustrated me so much. I remember The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being removed from our approved list of books because of a parental challenge.

    • Jackie B September 21, 2016 at 10:08 am

      That’s such a shame! Huck Finn is so important to read– particularly in high school, when they understand the subtext. What a shame. This is why we need to be vocal about such things!

  • M @ A Blog Of One's Own September 21, 2016 at 10:31 am

    I love this post. This is so important.

    I also wanted to let you know that I tagged you for the Sunshine Blogger Award 😛 Here’s the post:

    • Jackie B September 21, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Thanks, M! I agree as well. I hope to provide some lists of top 5 challenged books to read in different genres over the next two weeks– hopefully that will get people reading!

      Thanks for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger award! I also nominated you for it a few days ago (– but it was my first award, so I’m still getting used to this. Oops! I should definitely comment on people’s blog with the link, shouldn’t I? Well communicated!

  • Brendon September 21, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Very good and informative post. I agree, I do not think books should be banned. Access to information and critical thought is very important. I wonder though about texts that outright perpetuate systems of oppression using free speech as a convenient excuse for bigotry and hate. Banning is pretty extreme in my opinion, regardless. But it’s an interesting thing I’ve come across -> free speech as an excuse to do harm to minoritized groups.

    • Jackie B September 22, 2016 at 8:40 am

      Thanks, Brendon!
      That is quite observant– I’m sure there are texts that perpetuate systems of oppression, but I have faith that the text which educate us to the lives, cultures, religions (etc) of others are more populous. We just need to make certain we continue to propagate reading and education.

  • Lost In A Good Book September 27, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Excellent post. So much good information!

    • Jackie B September 28, 2016 at 10:58 am

      Thanks, Crystal!! It’s super important that we talk about this. It makes me so happy to see other people talking about this on their blogs, as well. 🙂

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