Banned Books Week is a celebration of books challenged or banned from the public. And in honor of the festivities, many books by Black authors are receiving quite a bit of shine.

Why Certain Books Are Censored?

Banning books is a practice that started centuries ago. Anyone can motion to do it, which is called a challenge. And if the reason for the challenge is deemed valid, the reading material is removed from certain settings (i.e. classrooms or bookstores).

PEN America reports that since 2021, there have been more than 2,500 books banned in school districts across 30+ states. Texas leads the charge with more school book bans than any other state in America.

According to the American Library Association, the top three reasons for challenging a book are that it contains sexually explicit material, offensive language, or is unsuited to any age group.

Of course, censorship is not always bad. In fact, it can help protect children and other vulnerable groups from discovering inaccurate, inappropriate, and otherwise harmful material. But when censorship happens unreasonably, it can become a big problem.

What Is Banned Books Week?

This annual event highlights books removed from schools, bookstores, libraries, and other public settings. This year, the festivities take place from September 18 to September 24. And its theme, “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us,” is raising awareness of how censorship can negatively impact the book community.

Censorship can pose many problems for authors AND readers. But fortunately, this week amplifies the voices of authors whose works are unfairly censored. You can get in on the action by supporting the coalition as they fight for our right to read. Here are five banned books to get your hands on ASAP.

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“All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson

 

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All Boys Aren’t Blue” by author George M. Johnson is a collection of essays centered around Johnson’s experience growing up Black and queer in New Jersey and Virginia. The book tackles heavy topics such as sexual consent and abuse, acting as a love letter to others who can relate.

The book received critical acclaim, with shining reviews from major publications, including New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly. But not everyone was excited about its success.

For its sexually-explicit content and depictions of abuse, the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom reported “All Boys Aren’t Blue” as the third most challenged and banned book of 2021.

 

This hasn’t stopped Johnson, though. Instead, he’s gone on to write five more books and counting.

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

 

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You might remember “The Hate U Give,” a popular 2018 film that follows a young girl named Starr Carter who lives in the inner city. She witnesses her best friend, Khalil, being gunned down by police, which sparks a national outcry. And when a powerful neighborhood gang threatens her to keep quiet, she must decide whether to fight for his justice or her life.

Before “The Hate U Give” was an uber-successful movie, it was a book written by Angie Thomas. Critics found its portrayal of law enforcement offensive, calling its message a social or political indoctrination. The book was also banned for its use of profanity and violence.

 

Fortunately, the book received rave reviews from fans around the country. As a result, it made the New York Times best-seller list, where it stayed for a whopping 80 weeks!

“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison

 

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The Bluest Eye” is the first novel written by legendary author Toni Morrison. It follows an African-American girl named Pecola growing up in Ohio following the Great Depression. As the target of bullying, little Pecola desperately wants to fit in with her white peers. And as a result, she develops an inferiority complex, wishing to have blue eyes. But what she receives instead is little more than heartache and pain.

For its depiction of child abuse, sexually explicit content, and offensive language, “The Bluest Eye” was banned in a number of high schools across the country. Today, it’s the 10th most banned book in the United States, according to the American Library Association.

Still, “The Bluest Eye” remains one of the most popular U.S. novels of all time and is used to teach high school and college students of all backgrounds.

“Heavy: An American Memoir” by Kiese Laymon

 

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Heavy: An American Memoir” is a popular book authored by Kiese Laymon. In the memoir, Laymon recounts his experiences with racism, weight, sex, writing, “and ultimately gambling.” He also talks about his relationship with his mother and grandmother, two heavy influences in his life. The results is a powerful, personal memoir that received many positive reviews from a number of heavy hitters in the industry.

 

But unfortunately, some readers found “Heavy” to be more offensive than anything, calling it obscene for its sexual content. A Missouri school district even banned the book and others, prompting two students to file a lawsuit to remove the ban.

Fortunately, the memoir has since earned quite a few nods and awards from notable publications like The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly.

“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

 

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Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” is a book about racism by authors Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Touted as a “remix” of Kendi’s award-winning “Stamped from the Beginning” book, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” breaks down the construct of race for readers of all backgrounds. From the history of racist ideas to how to check our racial biases, the book is a masterpiece at explaining how race has infiltrated our society.

 

The book received rave reviews, quickly becoming a New York Times best-seller. But even though many loved the read, there were some who didn’t, calling it divisive or selective storytelling. As a result, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” was challenged and banned from certain classrooms and libraries.

But that didn’t stop Kendi. Instead, he has continued writing stories for children and adults to embrace reading. He recently partnered with fellow author Zora Neale Hurston to create a children’s picture book called “Magnolia Flowers.” The book follows a young Afro-Indigenous girl on a journey towards freedom, and has already received A+ ratings from fans and critics alike.

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