Banned Books Week 2021: Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us

Banned Books Week – misnomer though it may be – is probably my favorite display to put up every year, because I believe so strongly in the freedom to read (which is what we should probably call this week). This year’s promotional materials from ALA¬† feature the phrase “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us.” I made a small sign for the display with this logo and phrase and a quote (“The freedom to read is essential to democracy”); then Tall spinner rack display with challenged booksI looked up the ALA’s Top 100 Most Challenged Books by Decade and Top Ten Most Challenged Books List (top 10 by year) and pulled as many of those titles as I could find in our library to put on display.

I also put a small display on the desk near where students check out and return books: my “books change lives/books change lives” jar. This is something I’ve made part of my Banned Books/Freedom to Read display in public libraries for the past several years (see my 2017 post for the Robbins Library here, and the 2016 post here). With the jar, I invite patrons (students, this year) to write the title of a book that has meant something to them; the jar fills up with evidence of the importance of books to people’s lives. This year, I accompanied the jar with a quote from Ban This Book by Alan Gratz:

Mug with censored text, sign, glass jar, copy of Ban This Book“How do you say why you like a thing? …How do you explain to someone else why a thing matters to you if it doesn’t matter to them?” (Alan Gratz, Ban This Book, p. 39)

Whiteboard with date, due date, and First Line Friday quote from Ban This BookThis whiteboard stands near the checkout/return desk; it always has today’s date, the due date of books checked out today, and a First Line Friday – the first sentence of a book. I change it out every week, and visitors to the library can guess the book or peek underneath the flap to find the source. This week – spoiler alert! – the quote is from Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. Ban This Book is about a girl named Amy, who, when she discovers that her favorite book, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankeweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, has been removed from the school library – over the protest of the school librarian and against the school library’s own established request for reconsideration policy – begins a secret “banned books library” in her locker at school. This builds into full-blown activism by Amy and her friends; they realize that “if you can ban one book, you can ban them all,” and they all show up at a school board meeting to advocate for their books’ return to the library shelves.

Below: Rotating spinner display rack featuring Speak, Monster, George, Bridge to Terabithia, Blubber, The Giver, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Golden Compass, Stamped, Ban This Book, Goosebumps.