Banned Book Week: Huck, Jem, Harry, & Tango

What do Huck Finn, Jem Finch, and Harry Potter have in common?

They’re three teenage boys in books that have been banned or challenged.

It’s Banned Book Week, the American Library Association’s annual recognition of censorship of printed material, particularly books in public schools and town libraries.

We Americans like to think that censorship happens elsewhere, in regimes that don’t tolerate freedom of expression.

Think again.  Attempts to control national reading trace back to the Civil War and continue to present day.

Who are the censors? Anyone with enough clout to be heard. Parents, school boards, editors, publishers, politicians and government officials. Anyone who feels that a particular book threatens their beliefs and lifestyles; anyone who objects to what they deem incendiary. 

Not all challenges lead to banning, but many do. Among the reasons: profanity, witchcraft, violence, sex, defiance of authority, science fiction and fantasy.

Then there’s Tango, the penguin. Abandoned as an egg by his mother, New York City’s Central Park Zookeepers gave the egg to a pair of male Chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo to hatch and raise.  The 2005 picture book, And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell  and Justin Richardson, chronicles their story, and has been ALA’s top challenged book for five years. 

In an age where we worry that people aren’t reading more than a text message or a tweet, where bookstores are closing one after another, what could be more important than promoting the freedom to read?

I credit my own growth as a reader to the books my friends and I surreptitiously passed to each other under the desks in 7th grade social studies class.  I still remember those titles, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a censored perennial, among them.

As a teacher, I encouraged free choice in reading and taught a “Banned Book Week” unit.  As a parent, I allowed total freedom of choice in reading, even as I cringed when my very young sons insisted I read the adventures of He-Man and She-Ra in the Masters of the Universe series endlessly.  My daughter only wanted picture books about dogs.    A friend of mine’s daughter only read books with the word “cat” in the title.  These children, all adults now, became avid readers, consuming titles across genres.

While browsing in a bookstore in Manhattan, I overheard a woman lament to her friend, “My grandchildren don’t know  from libraries; my daughter just orders books for them.”   Too bad for those kids. They won’t experience the joy of browsing, of discovering a book or author or subject they might never learn about.

The next day, I received a huge box of children’s’ books from my graduate school mentor as gifts for my grandchildren. He wrote: “I hope your grandkids grow up reading real books.”

Judy Blume, author of many books for young readers and herself subject to censorship, wrote:  “What I worry about most is the loss to young people. If no one speaks out for them, if they don’t speak out for themselves, all they get for required reading will be the most bland books available. And instead of finding the information they need at the library, instead of finding the novels that illuminate life, they will find only those materials to which nobody could possibly object.” (Editor: Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers Simon & Schuster, 1999.)

To raise readers, protect the freedom to read. 

(For more:,

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22 Responses to Banned Book Week: Huck, Jem, Harry, & Tango

  1. I so agree Lisa. I remember all those summers when the library was our secret babysitter. My mother worked every day but Sunday and Thursday. She gave us bus fair or we walked to the library and stayed almost all day reading books. I won the Book Award because of the sheer number of books I read. It was fun just to hold a book and sit on my bed for hours. I must admit it made me a little nerdy and secretly my friends called me “the Encyclopedia.” I hope we remember that books are important. The ability to browse allows one to find books you may never be allowed to read if your parents chose them for you.


  2. Simple Pleasures Bookgal says:

    Great post! Thanks for following us. We’ll be posting on this subject all week long.


  3. I enjoyed reading your post. I think it’s great that you allowed your children the freedom to choose their own reading material!


    • Thanks! There were times I did question some of the books, especially what my teenage daughter read! Just how different is one “Cosmopolitan” from another? I truly believe freedom to read raises lifelong readers.


  4. Thank you for this post. You’ve reminded me that freedom to read should come at an early age. My children are 4 and 2. I hadn’t really thought about my own influences on their reading choices. Like when my son wants to read the exact same book night after night after night. I won’t try to convince him not to (though maybe I’ll introduce another to read right after 🙂 ). I do take them to the library and let them pick whatever they want. At this point in time it’s either a colorful cover (or something about trucks) that catches their attention, but they are their choices. We’ve learned some neat things that way.


    • That’s the beauty of libraries! Yes, I know reading the same book over and over again be tiring! But they love the repetition and then will start memorizing the books.
      My grandson’s favorite right now is “Click, Clack, Moo.”


  5. Ashton Abbot says:

    I’ll never forget trying to buy “The Catcher in the Rye” at a school library book fair and having a mother working the fair tell me she wouldn’t sell it to me, only if my mother came in and gave her approval. Admittedly I was in 3rd or 4th grade, but all my other books were from the high school section and I was just BOGGLED. My mother, of course, told me it was a great book and I was thrilled to march in and pick it up the next day. Another book that spent many years on the “banned” list…


  6. Simple Pleasures Bookgal says:

    Wonderful post! As I said in my last post, it was a teacher ( a neighbor who had been retired for some time) who first put “To Kill a Mockingbird” in my hands. I will remember her forever for that one thing alone, if nothing more.


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  8. Caroline says:

    It still surprises me the books people want to challenge or ban just because they disagree with the content, so then don’t read it. I just wrote a book review for “Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers”. I thought it was interesting hearing from the writers themselves about their thoughts on censorship. I agree, the library is a wonderful place to find a great book to read.


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