Book Challenges, Challenging Books, and Young Readers

Authored by: Christine A. Jenkins

Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  April  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415965057
eBook ISBN: 9780203843543
Adobe ISBN: 9781136913570


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Educators and librarians have a long history of energetic work on behalf of young people and their reading. Other people are equally passionate about what children read and what meanings they make but their efforts may be aimed at limiting access to books. Christine Jenkins explores what we do and do not know about the beliefs, goals, and strategies of individuals and groups who would censor books for young readers. Her analysis is central to any discussion of the life of a book as it moves from purchase, to review, to public debate, to bookshelf, and ultimately to young readers; who will, in the end, find their own meanings in the literature they read. Jenkins’ overview of censorship is followed by Cart’s and Yokota’s chapters on book reviews and book awards, all of which extend our understanding of the relationships between society, books, and reading.

Censorship is the removal, suppression, or restricted circulation of literary, artistic, or educational materials—of images, ideas and information—on the grounds that these are morally or otherwise objectionable in light of standards applied by the censor. Frequently, the single occurrence of an offending word will arouse protest. In other cases, objection will be made to the underlying values and basic message conveyed—or said to be conveyed—by a given work…. Americans find censorship odious. Few in our society advocate the banning of all but a tiny handful of materials from sale, circulation, or display to adults. The commitment to free expression is not so clear, however, where minors are concerned.

(Reichman, Censorship and Selection, 2001, pp. 2–4)

The principles of intellectual freedom—the idea that a democracy is dependent upon free and open access to ideas—are hallmarks of the library and education professions. But librarians and teachers sometimes face strong opinions regarding what material people think is appropriate for children and teenagers to have access to in a school library, public library, or classroom.

(Cooperative Children’s Book Center, n.d.)
In this chapter, I examine the censorship of young people’s literature and the published research about it. Many people are not aware of the prevalence of challenges to the right to read in contemporary America. Censorship is associated in the minds of many with dramatic scenes of book burning in other countries or in the past. Further, when people do think of censorship today, they may think first of controversies over rap music lyrics, potty-mouthed radio talk show hosts, or X-rated films. Rarely are cases of attempted book censorship covered as major news stories. The vignettes offered below indicate, however, that challenges to young people’s reading options are anything but rare.

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