Set Fire To Censorship


Haley Clark

Banned book display

Haley Clark, Feature and Opinion Author

Intellectual Freedom activist and esteemed librarian Judith Krug founded Banned Book Week in 1982, at a time when literature censorship was at an all time high. In 2017 alone, 416 individual books were challenged or banned in the United States, some several times. 56% of these challenges took place in public libraries, and 25% within school’s classrooms and curriculum.

The problem with censoring specific literature from the public eye is that it causes the misinterpretation and under representation of certain cultures, thereby keeping their stories from being read and learned from. 80% of 2017’s most commonly challenged books tell the stories of people from marginalized groups. The issue then becomes trying to show the unique takes on history and the world from the groups being discriminated against and silenced.

The top 11 most commonly challenged books of 2018:

1. George by Alex Gino
Reasons: banned, challenged, and relocated because it was believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning “dirty magazines,” describing male anatomy, “creating confusion,” and including a transgender character

2. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
Reasons: banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ content, and for political and religious viewpoints

3. Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple

4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: banned and challenged because it was deemed “anti-cop,” and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references

5. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ characters and themes

6. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons: banned, challenged, and restricted for addressing teen suicide

7. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and certain illustrations

8. Skippyjon Jones series written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
Reason: challenged for depicting stereotypes of Mexican culture

9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: banned and challenged for sexual references, profanity, violence, gambling, and underage drinking, and for its religious viewpoint

10. This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Reason: challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content

11. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Reason: challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content


There are common themes that tend to get specific books challenged and banned in schools, libraries, and book stores across the United States. Reported reasons that books have been challenged in the past include: LGBTQ+ content, racial issues, religious views, political bias, negativity, violence, and sexual situations.

Being gay or trans is not a choice, but it might take people seeing themselves in other people to realize who they really are.  By taking these kinds of books off the shelves for the public to read, it limits the information students have access to and denies them the right to form their own opinions on others and potentially even themselves. 

There are some students at MHS that feel just as strongly about this topic. Sophomore Grace Anderson feels that the themes discussed in banned and challenged books should not be condemned or stigmatized because it reflects on who we really are. She feels that there is no reason to censor the truth because otherwise you are erasing the history and lessons of a story that still ring true today. 

“Banning books obstructs readers of recognising the miscellany present in our society, which leads to a lack of education on relevant topics.”

Sophomore Haley Roush thinks that challenged books are simply representing under-acknowledged minorities of people, and should therefore not be banned.

“Books that are banned usually include more characters that are of diverse backgrounds, for example the LGBT+ community, these books allow a diverse group of people to feel represented and see themselves in media,” said Roush, “Most of the people who ban books do not see the importance of representation because they have always been represented.”

People and groups against censorship take to the constitution and court rulings to help eradicate its practice whenever possible. The most probable argument in favor of Intellectual Freedom comes directly from the United States constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  

The First Amendment was written and passed in 1789, and it represents some of the values that our country was founded on. Political Freedom is only possible when a nation’s laws reflect that same principle and enforce it thereof. When a book is banned, the organization doing so is suppressing the American public’s rights to Freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press. Particularly when the reason for doing so is because of a religious or political viewpoint, which happen to be the most prevalent reasons given for challenged literature. 

Perhaps the most influential figure in this debate was American librarian Judith Krug. From the beginning, Krug was a Freedom of Speech proponent and a vivacious critic of censorship. In 20th century America, people were not only banning countless books without permission or any documentation, but there were also periodic book burnings in several towns places.  

In 1967, Krug became the director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association. Two years later, she joined the Freedom to Read Foundation as it’s executive director. From there, Krug fought cases and directed programs to  spread awareness of our constitutional right to freedom of speech and press. 

We know for a fact that the library is the main access point to the Internet outside of the home and workplace,” said Krug, “Particularly for young people, information about AIDS, sexuality, suicide could mean the difference between life and death. This law keeps us from giving people access to the information they need.

The American Library Association preaches diversity and representation in literature, all in the pursuit of Intellectual Freedom. “Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. (” 

The organization works to ensure that the general public has access to all kinds of information, and is the face of the movement attempting to cease the banning of books in the United States.

The Mason High School librarian, Mrs.Sandel, has her own thoughts on the censorship of books in school libraries. Sandel recalls the times when books have been challenged in the Mason Public School district. 

“I’ve been a librarian in Mason for 16 years and we have had three requests, by parents, to remove books from the shelves. We have a really good reconsideration process in place and all three times the process was completed and the books stayed on the shelves.” said Sandel. 

She and I  have a very similar view on censorship in libraries and bookstores across the country as well. “Almost all of the books in the United states that are challenged are because it represents or shows a group in a light that parents or community members don’t want others to see. Many of them are banned for gay, lesbian, transgender topics and I think that is very wrong. Censorship in any form is wrong. It’s okay if you don’t want to read it or you don’t want your child to read it but nobody should get to tell me what my child can read,” Sandel said.

In 1982, Judith Krug founded Banned Book Week to more efficiently fight the system in place and to give American libraries the opportunity to stand up for literary freedom. Held every year on the last week of September, libraries and schools throughout the country unite to teach about the dangers of censorship in literature. Commonly banned books are read aloud to students and challenged pieces are put on display to encourage guests to read them. 

The theme of this year’s Banned Book week event, held September 22-28, is “To keep the light on,” explaining that “Censorship leaves us in the dark”. Students are invited to record videos of themselves reading banned books and talking about censorship, and many scholarships have been awarded to those most passionate about putting an end to it. 

Another program called “Dear Banned Author” encourages readers to write letters, emails, or tweets to challenged authors about their books. This program and many others aim to gain awareness of challenged books in hopes of finding a way to limit it whenever possible.

To ban a book for opinionated reasons is to take the love and passion out of a story, and to refuse readers their rights to beauty and happiness. When people see themselves represented in media of any kind it is a relief and a blessing because it helps people know that they aren’t alone. 

Bringing the personalisation and closeness of a person’s struggles to the page of a book is sometimes just what it takes to give someone a piece of bliss, of sorrow, and may even help them come to realize a solution to the problem they’ve been consumed by. A book is the pure truth and essence of the story and the universe itself. 

Without images or artificial sights and noises, the author relies entirely on the emotions and deeper meanings of their perspective in life to let the story unfold in a way that touches on what it means to be human. Books should not be banned because only when we touch upon so called controversial issues can we potentially begin to find ourselves and the essence of other people within them. 

“A word to the unwise. 

Torch every book.
Char every page. 

Burn every word to ash.

Ideas are incombustible.

And therein lies your real fear.”

Ellen Hopkins, [New York Times Bestselling Author]