If you read one (banned) book this week
Banned Books Week was introduced in 1982 to bring awareness to increasing censorship and calls for removal of books from schools, libraries, and stores. Forty years later, there are still regular challenges to the freedom to read. The good news is “banning” a book typically only draws more attention to it, and in the digital age access is more open than ever.
This week our editors present a list of banned books to read…if you can get your hands on them.
When this book was first published in 2015 under the title George (it was re-titled by the author in 2021), we chose it as an editors’ pick for the best children’s books of the year. I fell in love with this story about a fourth grader who identifies as a girl and how she deals with the bullying and micro-aggressions, but also receives the support and kindness that ultimately helps her find a way to show the people in her life who she is. One of the top five most banned books between 2010-2020, Melissa not only gives trans kids a book where they are truly seen, but also carries a valuable message to all readers about equality and compassion. —Seira Wilson, Amazon Editor
Two penguins named Roy and Silo live at the Central Park Zoo. They do everything together: bow to each other, swim, walk around the zoo, and sleep. The one thing they can’t do together is make a chick. But when they are given an orphaned baby penguin, Tango, it’s clear that together, Roy and Silo can love and take care of a little one just as well as the other penguin parents. In a world where all families don’t look alike, this book—based on a real life penguin pairing—is a sweet, loving, and reassuring valentine to found families, and a gentle reminder that every baby deserves loving parents, and that just because a family looks different to yours, doesn’t mean it’s not as nurturing and protective. —Vannessa Cronin, Amazon Editor
Throughout the 2021-22 school year, more than 1,600 book titles were banned, according to a new report by PEN America, an organization that promotes freedom of speech. The 1985 feminist and dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which was made into a Hulu series (season five just began), and the sequel, The Testaments, which won the Booker Prize and which we named the Best Book of 2019, frequently appear on banned books lists. To do something about the cavalcade of recent book bans, Margaret Atwood commissioned an unburnable copy of the book, which went to auction and raised $130,000 for PEN America. In a video she takes a flamethrower to the book—and her words, her ideas, her characters remain impervious to the flame. As Atwood wrote in a statement, “the video of the book being torched by me and refusing to burn has now had a potential 5 billion views. We hope it raises awareness and leads to reasoned discussion.” Amen. —Al Woodworth, Amazon Editor
One of the most fun things about parenthood is getting to relive nostalgic childhood moments. So I could not have been more excited when my son’s second grade class started reading Charlotte’s Web, about the touching friendship between a group of barnyard animals, led by a wise spider, who are trying to save the life of a pig who is otherwise destined to become bacon. Imagine my surprise to find out that this iconic, award-winning book, one of the first many of us remember reading as a child, was banned in 2006 by a school in Kansas because "talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural." Hopefully I’ll have done a decent enough job as a parent raising critical thinkers that my kids will realize Wilbur, Charlotte, and Templeton the rat aren’t real. Except for in my kids’ vivid imagination. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor
If you look up the American Library Association’s list of the top 100 most commonly banned books of the last decade—and I suggest you do, there are a lot of interesting reads on it—you might notice a pattern: Many of the titles have been adapted into major films or TV shows. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether that suggests that people advocating for bans aren’t actually reading the books. You can also draw your own conclusions on whether there’s any particular reason that books about authoritarian censorship like 1984 or The Hunger Games keep making the list. Or you can just volunteer as tribute and catch up on the story of Katniss Everdeen before the prequel adaptation comes out next year. I have a feeling The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes might get a little more attention when it’s in multiplexes worldwide. —Marcus Mann, Amazon Editor
Considering what is happening in classrooms across the country, it might be easier to come up with a list of books that aren’t (yet) banned. Of all the dubious additions to this growing roster is a particularly surprising one: the dictionary. Which word did school administrators in Alaska find especially galling? (sensitive readers, cover your eyes): balls. Balls indeed. —Erin Kodicek, Amazon Editor