Banned Books Week 2020: A Reading List
Censorship is alive and well, and great books continue to be a battleground of free expression and access to information. In honor of this year’s Banned Books Week, we have gathered a list of books—both classic and contemporary titles—that have been challenged by school districts, governments, and other bodies of power, including, most recently, in the Burbank Unified School District in California. We encourage you to purchase one or more of these books from a local, Black-owned bookstore near you.
The Bluest Eye, a powerful examination of race, beauty, class, and gender, chronicles the life of young Black narrator Pecola Breedlove’s life in the years following the Great Depression. Pecola prays every day for blond hair and blue eyes, equating the traits to the epitome of beauty. Toni Morrison’s first novel has been met with contention throughout its history. In 2013, the president of the Board of Education in Ohio, challenged the book’s inclusion in the 11th grade Common Core reading list, and in February, it was removed from the reading list of the Colton Joint Unified Board of Education, only to be reinstated during an August board meeting.
Mark Twain’s picaresque novel about a young boy’s journey down the Mississippi has shaped subsequent generations of American writers from T.S. Eliot, William Faulnker, to J.D. Salinger. It is one of the first major novels in American literature to be written in vernacular English. It was most recently challenged by parents in the Burbank Unified School District in California for its language.
Harper Lee’s first novel, one of the most cherished coming-of-age stories in American literature, tells the story of Scout, a young girl in the South witnessing her conscientious father defend the life of a wrongly accused Black man. The book has been translated into over 40 languages, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961, and is among the books that the Burbank Unified School Board has pulled from its curriculum.
The Cay is a story about an 11-year-old boy who, upon being blinded and stranded after the freighter he and his mother are traveling to the United States on is torpedoed, must rely on an old West Indian man named Timothy, who teaches him survival skills. The novel received the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award in 1970 and is among the books that the Burbank Unified School Board has pulled from its curriculum.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, another book that was recently pulled by the Burbank Unified School Board, is a book about racism during the Great Depression and Jim Crow era in Southern Mississippi. The young narrator, Cassie Logan, learns the importance of land to her family and having a place of their own.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives within the uneasy balance of two worlds: the poor neighborhood she lives in and the affluent suburban prep school she attends. This life is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood best friend, Khalil, by a police officer, causing national controversy and upending Starr’s life. A Texas school district banned the book due to a parent’s concern of drug use and explicit language.
Fourth grader Melissa knows that when her family and friends look at her, they see George, a boy. However, she knows that she’s a girl, not a boy, thinking that she’ll have to keep this secret forever. These plans might have to change once Melissa’s teacher announces that the class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web, with Melissa wanting to play the female role of Charlotte. An Oregon school banned the book because it featured a transgender character.
Every summer, Rose goes with her parents to a lake house in Awago Beach, where she meets with her friend Wendy. However, this summer is different, with a new set of problems for Rose, including her parent’s nonstop fighting. In an attempt to distract themselves from the drama, Rose and Wendy get caught up in some trouble with some local teens. Banned for containing LGBTQIA+ characters, drug use, and profanity, the book was also “considered sexually explicit with mature content.”