1. The Education Gradebook

Banned Books Week serves as warning against censorship

Published Sep. 30, 2015

It didn't take long for an eager reader to snatch up the copy of Captain Underpants that librarian Heidi Colom had propped in her Banned Books Week display at the Town 'N Country Regional Public Library.

"Beware! Banned and challenged books ahead!" she typed on the display's sign. "Read at your own risk."

Nearby were copies of Winnie the Pooh, The Chronicles of Narnia and Roald Dahl's The Witches, all literary works that have been banned or challenged by activists across the country in the last 30 years.

This week is Banned Books Week, a campaign created by the American Library Association in 1982 to promote free speech and the dangers of censoring words and ideas.

This is the second year Colom has joined the droves of librarians, publishers, authors and readers across the country celebrating the forbidden word.

Leslea Newman for the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out!

Tampa Bay book worms like Colom have spent the week spreading the gospel.

Banned books week display at my library.

At St. Petersburg College, teachers and students took turns reading aloud excerpts from books on the list of past and present banned books, including Lord of the Rings, The Lovely Bones and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Join @TheSandboxN in the TL building today for a #BannedBooksWeek readout!

Students at Alonso High School in Tampa were challenged to stretch their minds.

E2H, just a reminder your Alternative Book Reports are due this Friday, October 2nd. Get to reading! #BannedBooksWeek

An an article published on this week touted the good intentions of Banned Books Week, but argued that in 2015, the idea of book censorship is nearly a moot point.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, acknowledged that the threat of censorship is not as common as it once was, but that it will always exist.

"It never seems to go away," she said.

Banned Books Week, she added, has many purposes.

"It's important to remember that the week is not just about book censorship, but also to celebrate our fundamental liberty to read and think as we wish," Caldwell-Stone said. "It's also to celebrate the power of the word and ideas."

Since 1982, more than 11,300 books have been challenged. Last year, 311 challenges were reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, but Caldwell-Stone said that most go unreported. In some places, she said, librarians or teachers can be fired for defending literature that others reject.

Most detrimental, she said, is when public or school libraries are forced to pull books from their shelves because one parent is uncomfortable with the content.

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter

We’ll break down the local and state education developments you need to know every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

"That can be a real tragedy, especially if you're talking about kids who are questioning their sexuality, or dealing with family members struggling with addiction or alcoholism," Caldwell-Stone said. "Suppressing a book is like cutting people off to that idea."

The subject matter at the center of book challenges has evolved in the last three decades. In the 1990s, Caldwell-Stone said books like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series were scorned as promoting witchcraft. In the last decade, more and more challenges have centered on characters exploring their sexuality or books with LGBT themes.

Though most controversy comes from K-12 schools, Caldwell-Stone said universities are not immune.

Last year, the following books were the top ten most challenged, according to the ALA:

1) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: "depictions of bullying."

2) Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: "politically, racially, and socially offensive," "graphic depictions."

3) And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: "promotes the homosexual agenda."

4) The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: "contains controversial issues."

5) It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: "alleges it child pornography."

6) Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

7) The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence.

8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: "date rape and masturbation."

9) A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard

Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

10) Drama, by Raina Telgemeier

Reasons: sexually explicit.

"The impulse is that we have to shield children from language, ideas, political concepts that we, the adult, feel might be harmful or too mature for young people," Caldwell-Stone said. "People should be able to raise challenges and parents should be able to guide (their children's) reading, but we don't believe an individual parent should be able to restrict everyone else's reading ability based on their personal beliefs."

Contact Katie Mettler at or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.