FAQs about Banned Books

by Kellee Hieb

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John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, Judy Blume, Maya Angelou, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and Mark Twain: What does each of these authors have in common? They have all written books that have been banned at one time or another. Combined, they have written some of the most influential novels in modern history and broken many records on bestseller lists. While a book can be banned for any number of reasons, banned books don't necessarily live up to their nefarious image. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about banned books.

Banned Book Questions:

  1. What is a banned book?
    A banned book is a work that contains material deemed inappropriate, offensive, or even dangerous by certain people or organizations. Historically, books have been banned on the national level with serious legal implications and even book burnings. Today, however, books in the United States are most often challenged by an individual or group that protests at a local level, such as at their school, local library, or bookseller, until the targeted organization agrees to remove the book from the shelves.

  2. Who typically bans books?
    According to the American Library Association (ALA), 56 percent of book challenges in the United States are initiated by parents of school children, while 13 percent come from patrons of bookstores or libraries. Other sources of book bans include administrators, teachers, religious or political organizations, and governments. Although bans are most often implemented on a local level, governments and other authoritative bodies can ban books on a larger scale and create laws regarding banned material.

  3. What's the difference between a banned book and a challenged book?
    The ALA considers any attempt to censor materials or limit access to a book a challenge. A successful challenge would result in the book being banned, but if a book is challenged by any individual or group who do not succeed in a ban, the book is still considered a challenged book.

  4. What are some reasons a book can become banned or challenged?
    The most common reason for a book to be challenged is that it is considered sexually explicit. Other reasons include offensive language, content that is unsuited the targeted age group, political or religious viewpoints, racism, and any other reason that an individual might find the material offensive.

  5. What are some of the arguments against banning books?
    While books can be challenged with good intentions, such as the desire to protect children from difficult ideas or sensitive information, banning a book can also prevent others who don't share the same viewpoints from gaining access to it. Many readers even consider censorship a violation of the First Amendment, which protects the right to free speech.

  6. What is Banned Books Week?
    During the last week of September every year, the ALA celebrates "Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read" in an effort to remind Americans not to take intellectual freedom for granted.

  7. What are some commonly banned books?
    In more recent years, the "Harry Potter" series by J. K. Rowling has come under considerable scrutiny from religious groups and parents concerned that it was teaching children witchcraft. These protests didn't stop the books from topping bestseller lists for years. Classic literature is also under frequent attack. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury recently became banned at a school district in Mississippi; ironically, the classic novel is about government-banned books. Other frequently challenged classics include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, and The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

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