Scan the 100 most frequently banned books lists for the past two decades and you’ll find a host of beloved children’s book and young adult authors: Judy Blume; J.K. Rowling; Chris Crutcher; Walter Dean Myers; Dav Pilkey; Lois Lowry, and more.
This week, the American Library Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, bookstores and more will celebrate our freedom to read with special events across the nation Sept. 30-Oct. 6.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, consider reading a book by these frequently challenged young adult and children’s book authors.
Stephen Chbosky. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Chbosky’s debut novel, has been banned in two school districts for its use of profanity and its depictions of adolescent sexuality and drug use.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is about a high school freshman who is befriended by two senior misfits, addresses topics such as bullying, sexual abuse, mental illness, and the pain of feeling on the outside of everything, “But, at the same time, Charlie has his first kiss and there is that first crush, and there is that perfect high school dance and the perfect drive, Chbosky said in an interview with NPR. “It’s about all aspects of growing up. I don’t find it bleak at all. I find it cathartic.”
Chbosky recently told “Entertainment Weekly” that he wrote “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” while recovering from a breakup. The title for the book and the idea behind the main character came to him in college; he wrote the story years later.
Lauren Myracle. Myracle is one of the most popular and frequently banned children’s authors of the 21st century. She is perhaps best known for her “TTYL” series, written entirely in an instant-message format about three girls who are navigating high school. The series is frequently banned for profanity; the books’ religious viewpoint; and for being sexually explicit, which those who seek to ban the series say makes the books unsuitable for tweens.
Myracle’s novel “Shine,” about a gay teen who is beaten and left for dead and his 16-year-old friend, Cat, who is determined to find out who did it, has been described as her finest to date. Read a review of “Shine” and learn more about the author.
Judy Blume. Five of Blume’s books made the “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990 to 1999” list: “Forever,” “Blubber,” “Deenie,” “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” and “Tiger Eyes,” which will soon be released as a movie. Her books have been challenged for their frank discussions of issues related to sexuality, religion, difficult family issues, and more.
“I felt only that I had to write the most honest books I could. It never occurred to me, at the time, that what I was writing about was controversial,” Blume says in an essay on censorship on her blog.
In an interview with NPR, Blume said she believes what lies at the heart of censorship is “what we don’t want our children to know, what we don’t want to talk to our children about; and if they read it, they’ll know it, or they’ll question it.”
Sherman Alexie. Alexie’s semi-autobiographical novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and is often selected for summer reading lists across the Chicagoland area, particularly for freshmen. But the novel is often challenged by parents because it contains profanity and sexual references.
“Like it or not, this is the way 14-year-old boys talk to each other,” the principal of Antioch High School in Antioch, Ill., responded to seven parents who tried to have the book banned from summer reading lists three years ago.
“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is based on the life story of Alexie, who grew up on an Indian reservation in Wellpinit, Wash. It is a testament to the power of hope amidst poverty and racism, but the book also shines because of its humor: Junior, a budding cartoonist, captures much of the irony of what he experiences in drawings and comics that accompany the text. Read a review.
Ellen Hopkins. Hopkins, a young adult and adult novelist, is perhaps best known for her first book, ‘Crank,’ a novel in verse that is “loosely based on my older daughter’s addiction to crystal meth,” she says on her website. The novel gained widespread popularity, but it also became one of the most challenged books in children’s literature (the book was the fourth most-challenged book of 2010, according to the American Library Association).
“‘Crank’ began as a personal exploration of the “why’s” behind my daughter’s decisions, and what part I might have played in them,” Hopkins says on her website. She believes the book found a quick following among teens and others who love young adult literature “due to its timely subject matter, interesting format and honest portrayal of a ‘good girl’s’ fall from grace.”
Laurie Halse Anderson. “Speak,” the story of a girl who must navigate high school for the first time the summer after being raped by a popular upperclassman, is often featured on summer reading lists for Chicagoland high school students. Actress Kristen Stewart, who played the main character of “Speak,” Melinda, in a Lifetime made-for-television movie based on the novel, says it is one of three books that changed her life.
But “Speak” was challenged in one Missouri school system because some adults believe it “glorifies drinking, cursing, and premarital sex,” and “teaches principles contrary to the Bible.”
“When ‘Speak’ was published, there was some whispering that this was not an appropriate topic for teens. I knew from my personal experience that it was,” Halse Anderson said in an interview with “School Library Journal.” Halse Anderson recently discussed this year’s Banned Books Week event on her blog.
Chris Crutcher. “Hard to believe the challenge and banning of books is still an issue in the new millennium,” award-winning young adult author Crutcher says on his blog.
His books, which include “Whale Talk,” “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes,” “Deadline” and “Athletic Shorts,” have been challenged for the use of profanity, edgy themes, and frank discussions of sexuality and the impact of racism and violence.
During a January conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Crutcher, a keynote speaker, told writers that he strives to tell stories of teen in tough situations with language that is authentic to the pain that they are going through. “The language of grief is a pretty rough language, and we as writers have to write stories for teens in their native language or they won’t be believable,” he said during the conference.
On censorship, Crutcher said during the conference, “It’s a great fight, and I’ve still got a lot of adolescence in me, so I’m up for a good fight.”