Banned Books Week Aims to Help Protect the Freedom to Read

Banned Books Week is annual celebration of books and authors that have been challenged.

Over the past two years, there’s been a marked increase in the number of banned and challenged books in the U.S. That’s something that bothers Kasey Meehan, the Freedom to Read program director for the non-profit group PEN America. She told Inside Edition Digital that banning books “is an assault on our democracy, on our democratic process, and a real threat to the freedom to read for students.”

To respond to this threat, PEN and a host of other organizations, including the American Library Association and the National Book Foundation, are celebrating Banned Books Week. An annual celebration of books and authors that have been challenged, this year’s week spans from October 1 through October 7. The intention, Meehan says, is “to raise awareness around book bans and how they are occurring in both our public schools and our public libraries.” 

Meehan says her organization has been tracking book bans in the U.S., and tallied over 3000 instances of book bans in the past school year, “affecting over 1500 unique titles in 33 states, 150-some school districts.”

There are certain titles that seem to grace banned books lists perennially. They include Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir “Gender Queer,” Toni Morrison’s first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren't Blue,” John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez, “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins, and Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why.”

According to PEN America, approximately a third of the most challenged books include LGBTQ+ characters, and another third feature characters of color. “The way we see the targets behind these book bans, I think illuminates that the movement is intending to restrict certain types of identities, certain types of content from being available in our public schools. And ultimately, we see this as a real burden on our public school systems,” said Meehan.

Families should have oversight over what materials their children are reading, but Meehan says that the recent rise in book banning is not about ‘protecting children.’ “What we see happening is restrictions for all students based on the objections of single parents or a group of parents. The way we see all students being restricted on their freedoms to read is the issue.”

Its organizers intend for Banned Books Week to bring attention to that freedom to read — and to celebrate all that books can offer.

“We want students to be readers, we want students to learn, we want students to explore, and we get all of that through a good book,” Meehan said.

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