SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Banned Books

 

At the 2014 SCBWI Annual Winter Conference Joan Bertin (Executive Director, National Coalition Against Censorship), Ellen Hopkins (Author)  and Susanna Reich (Chair, Children's and Young Adult Book Committee, Pen American Center) discussed censorship in a panel entitled: Banning Books: Where do we Stand?

 

Below is more information about banned books compiled by Susanna Reich.

 

If your book is challenged or banned, contact your publisher. The following organizations also offer help:

 

National Coalition Against Censorship 

American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom

PEN American Center

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

 

Some statistics

 

Children's and young adult books make up the vast majority of books on the ALA's lists of banned and challenged books. On the most recent list of the "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books" by decade (2000-2009), 72 of the top 100 are children's and young adult books, and many of the remaining twenty-eight are classics that are regularly assigned in middle school and high school classrooms, such as Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird.

 

Between 2000-2009, 5,099 challenges were reported to the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. There were:

1,577 challenges due to "sexually explicit" material

1,291 challenges due to "offensive language"

989 challenges due to materials deemed "unsuited to age group"

619 challenged due to "violence"

361 challenges due to "homosexuality"

291 challenges due to "religious viewpoint"

274 challenges due to "occult" or "Satanic" themes

119 because they were "anti-family"

 

Also note that the ALA estimates that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported.

 

Relevant legal precedence against censorship:

 

– Government officials, including public school administrators, may not prohibit "the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." Texas v. Johnson (1989).

– The Supreme Court has cautioned that "local school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.'" Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982) (plurality opinion).

– A school library has "a special role…as a place where students may freely and voluntarily explore diverse topics." Campbell v. St. Tammany Parish School Board, 64 F. 3d 184, 190 (5th Cir. 1995).

Free speech is protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. Limits on free speech involve incitement, false statements of fact (libel, slander), child pornography, obscenity

 

Action Items

 

– Your first line of defense is the community of writers and illustrators. Use it for moral support.

– Educate yourself about first amendment rights and issues like diversity in children's books.

– If you hear about a challenged book, shine a spotlight on censorship by writing to your local newspaper, radio & TV stations and spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

– Let your editor know how you picture your characters. Encourage editors to consider illustrators of color for all types of books; ask that the illustrator include diverse people in the art; if your protagonist is a person of color, ask if and how they'll be depicted on the cover

– The poet Alexis DeVeaux said "Buying a book is a political act." Do you "censor" your book-buying? Do you purchase translated books? Publishers to look for who regularly publish translated books: Arthur Levine Books (a Scholastic imprint), Delacorte Books (a Random House imprint), and small independent presses like Enchanted Lion, Eerdmans and Kane/Miller. Do you give books gifts to kids that feature characters of different races & ethnicities than their own? Most of the big publishers publish multicultural books, though not nearly enough of them. Look for books by small presses like Lee & Low (which has acquired Children's Book Press and Shen's Books, and also includes the YA imprint Tu); Piñata Books, the children's imprint of Arte Público Press; Cinco Puntos; Just Us Books, Roadrunner Press; Groundwood; and Pajama Press.

 

Remember that no great art is created without risk-taking.

 

This information was compiled by Susanna Reich, Chair, Children's and Young Adult Book Committee, PEN American Center. I am not a lawyer and nothing herein should be taken as legal advice.