Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Banned Books Week Activities @ the Birmingham Public Library

Banned Books Week 2012

September 30-October 6

 The 30th Anniversary


When I was a freshman in high school, I was required by my teacher to furnish written permission from my parents in order to write a term paper on J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. If not the very first, it was an early lesson for me on the concept of censorship. Thankfully I had no problem finding a copy of the book and literary criticisms on it at the Birmingham Public Library. I learned right away that it had been challenged many times by concerned citizens that wanted it removed from schools and libraries. About ten years later it was cited as being the most challenged book ever. Ironically as the years passed it was reported to be the second most taught book in American schools. In 2005 Time magazine listed it among the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It now appears on many school reading lists. Many young readers are attracted to the young, rebellious and troubled protagonist, Holden Caulfield.

Maurice Sendak, the beloved, iconic children’s book author and illustrator faced many challenges against his works. The most ardently challenged title was his In the Night Kitchen (1970) that portrayed a young boy’s dream-like journey through a baker’s kitchen. Many became upset that the young protagonist, Mickey, was depicted without any clothes. Some librarians, teachers, and others took it upon themselves to paint (or mark with markers) diapers on his image to hide his private parts. Often this amounted to defacing public property (library books). Copies of this title were also burned. Mr. Sendak died this year on May 8. Just months before his death, he appeared twice on The Colbert Report. Unlike many of Stephen Colbert’s guests, Sendak and Colbert were evenly matched with their outlandish humor. At one point Colbert handed Sendak a sandwich bag full of perfectly round cut-outs. These contained images of Mickey’s private parts. Sendak loved it—a Swiss cheese book.

Huck Finn or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the fourth most banned book in the United States. In January 2011, NewSouth Books (Montgomery, Alabama) published revised editions of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in one volume with the editorial assistance of the Twain scholar, Alan Gribben. Gribben essentially replaced the frequently used “N”-word with the word "slave". The intent was to make the works more palatable to the public at large and to make it easier for teachers to assign and use in the classroom. This was met with mixed reactions and lively discussion. Some argue that the historical context and the author’s own choice of words should not be altered. Others feel that the changes bring the works back for more use in these current times. This is a classic case of purist attitudes versus politically correct attitudes. Ultimately, this is for you to decide for yourself.

The American Library Association is a long-time champion of intellectual freedom. They advocate freedom to read and emphasize unrestricted access to a wide variety of reading, listening, and viewing materials as essential to our democracy. This organization has proudly sponsored Banned Books Week for thirty years. Go to their website to learn more about their efforts and policy concerns.


Many libraries will have displays, events, and programs in the upcoming days commemorating the thirty year anniversary of Banned Books Week calling attention to the importance of safeguarding our intellectual freedom.

The Birmingham Public Library is no exception.

Displays will be up at several locations. The Central Library (Downtown) will have displays in the Fiction Department and in the Youth Department. Our Smithfield, Southside, Springville Road, and West End locations will also have displays. The West End Branch‘s display is titled “Books Banned or Challenged in Alabama.”

The Birmingham Public Library is offering programs as well.

The library will offer an online Name the Banned Book Contest. Every day a different passage from a banned book will be posted on our blog. Participants are asked to identify the title in the comments section. These responses will not be made visible to the general public until the following morning when the correct answer is revealed. All correct answers will be entered in a drawing and all winners will be posted on the BPL blog on Monday, October 8. This contest will begin at 9:00 a.m. on September 30 and end at 11:59 p.m. on October 6. While this program is being promoted on the BPL’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, contest answers will only be accepted through the comments field of the BPL blog.

The Youth Department at the Central Library is offering several programs. Their “Tweet for Freedom” initiative will allow participants to post tweets against censorship using the hashtag #Banned Books Week. The library’s Twitter handle is @bpl. The Youth Department will also be making a paper chain for its “Chain the Library” effort. Participants will record the title of a banned book they have read on a slip of paper that will be used to form a chain. Staff members can help them identify challenged titles that they may have read. Also during Banned Books Week the Youth Department will feature a banned book on its Teens Facebook page. Participants will be asked to guess why the book was banned and to post their answers on the BPL Teens Facebook page. The correct answer will be posted at the end of the day. On Tuesday, October 2, at 3:15 p.m. the Youth Department will host a brief discussion on Banned Books Week followed by a screening of the film How to Eat Fried Worms. (For additional information, call 226-3655.)

The Birmingham Public Library is proud to offer these displays and programs and we hope that you will participate in making all our voices heard as we celebrate the freedom to read.


Here is a list of well-known titles that have been challenged from time to time. Fortunately, these are still available in many places including the Birmingham Public Library.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Ulysses by James Joyce
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
1984 by George Orwell
Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Native Son by Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Fifty Shades of Gray by E. L. James

David Blake
Central Library

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