Books Under Fire: A Hit List of Banned and Challenged Children’s Books by Pat R. Scales features 33 books for youth that have been challenged since 2015. Each book gets a detailed profile that includes a summary of the plot of the book, a run down of the challenges to the title since it’s publication, a further reading section for those who want to find out more about the book and the censorship it’s faced, discussion questions to use when reading the book with youth, and a short list of books that were challenged for similar reasons as the book profiled. The book also includes a foreword from Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom Deborah Caldwell-Stone and a preface by the author to outline the purpose of the book. Caldwell-Stone writes:
When I speak about banned and challenged books, the question I am most often asked is “Which books are banned?” And my answer is short and simple: books that matter to young people. Books that speak to issues important to them, about racism, homophobia, and social justice. Books that assure young people that their struggles with identity and society are real and that they, like the book’s protagonists, have the power to persevere and triumph despite those struggles.
Backmatter for the book includes additional resources for readers including: resources on how to teach youth about the first amendment, a bibliography with professional resources about censorship, and additional books lists of popular children’s literature that has been challenged and the reasons why.
This book is a great primer for librarians, teachers, or others who work with youth who want to learn more about which children’s books have been frequently challenged in schools and libraries and the reasons behind those challenges. Those who have already made many a Banned Books Week displays may not be surprised by many of the titles that appear in this book or the reasons stated for their censorship. For those readers the detailed account of the challenges and further reading section provide ample material for readers to go further into the issue of censorship. Readers will start to see themes emerge as they read the entries for each book and the reasons why they were challenged. “Sexual content”, “profanity”, “homosexuality” and “religious or political viewpoints” are phrases that appear again and again throughtout this book when Scales describes censors’ rationales for removing, relocating or otherwise restricting access to a title. The bright side is that another theme emerges, that many of these challenges ultimately do not result in the removal of the book from libraries or school collections. Any reader looking for further analysis of the rationale for challenges or broader conclusions about why children’s literature as a genre faces challenges despite being written for the youngest readers among us will not find it in this book. This book is a great starting point for anyone researching censorship of children’s literature and issues related to children’s freedom to read.
Tayla Cardillo is the Branch Librarian of the Oak Lawn Branch Library in Cranston, RI. Before her current position she was a YA librarian. She completed her MLIS at the University of Rhode Island and her B.A. in English at Rhode Island College. Tayla has known that she wanted to be a librarian since she was 17 years old. When not doing library wizardry, she enjoys playing tabletop games and cosplaying.