I wasn’t surprised to read that the American Library Association (ALA) reported at least 513 actual and attempted book bannings in the US in 2008. Here’s the list of the ten most frequently challenged books of last year.

What did surprise me is this interactive map showing exactly where the bannings have taken place. Would you have guessed that many of the bluest states have been just as guilty as the cradle of the Confederacy? New England’s puritanical heritage seems to be holding sway with the Eastern Seaboard awash in incidents of censorship.

Along with the locations of each incident, the map notes the offending titles and offer brief summaries of the cases against these tomes. The controversies range from predictable fears about magic-related YA fiction to traditional opposition to classics like Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The transgressions range from the use of profanity and slang, to allegedly offensive depictions of racial or religious groups, to portrayals of homosexuals as anything other than mentally ill.

Here are three fairly random examples drawn from the map:

In 2008, in Bartlesville, OK, Maureen Johnson‘s The Bermudez Triangle was removed from circulation at the Bartlesville Mid-High School library because of parental complaints about the book’s homosexual themes and scenes of underage drinking. ABFFE and NCAC sent letters to the superintendent and Board of Education opposing the book’s removal which were ignored.

In Loudon County, VA, this past year Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell‘s And Tango Makes Three was placed on restricted access in all elementary school libraries and public schools throughout Loudoun County. The book was challenged by a parent who objected to the story of two male penguins raising a chick as an attack on heterosexuals. The book was reviewed by administrators and no restrictions were recommended however the superintendent decided unilaterally to restrict student access.

In my hometown of Brooklyn, NY, Herge‘s Tintin Au Congo was challenged at the Brooklyn Public Library for offensive depictions of Africans. The book has been moved to a back room and is currently available by appointment only.

This illuminating map was created by the ALA to mark Banned Books Week, currently running through this weekend. The only national celebration of the freedom to read, Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, libraries and prisons.

Each year during the last week of September hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country highlight the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. In Fayettville, Ark., the Banished Book Lunch Club will spotlight books banned for political, social, sexual and religious reasons, including East of Eden by John Steinbeck; Johnny Got his Gun by Dalton Trumbo; Ordinary People by Judith Guest; The Giver by Lois Lowry and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. In Alamorgado, NM, organizers of a book discussion of Khaled Hosseini‘s The Kite Runner (one of 2008’s most frequently banned books) encourage attendees to dress as a character from your favorite banned book. In Newport, OR, there’ll be a communal reading of Catcher in the Rye.

See this list of events to find something happening in your area, and check out these things you can do to help remind people of the importance of free speech.


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