Banned Books Week Begins with a Book About a Secret School

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Welcome to Banned Books Week at Eleventh Stack!

According to the American Library Association, “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It brings together the entire book community; librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types, in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” This week we’ll be highlighting some books on the Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books of 2015 list and books that have been challenged in the past.

Children’s and Young Adult material appears often on banned books lists. This year, five out of ten books on the challenged list are children’s or YA material. It makes sense; parents, teachers and other adults worry over what children are reading and often request the removal of controversial books and media from schools and libraries. A book is considered “challenged” if its removal has been requested in a written, formal complaint.

Number 9 on the top 10 list this year is Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter.

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Winter’s picture book tells the true story of a “secret school” for girls formed when women were forbidden education in Afghanistan during Taliban control. Nasreen is an ordinary girl living with her parents and grandmother. But one day the Taliban come for her father, and Nasreen’s mother goes missing soon after. Nasreen stops speaking in her grief and her grandmother looks for a way to end Nasreen’s silent sorrow. She enrolls her in a secret school for girls and prays that education and friendship will end Nasreen’s silence. What follows is a moving story on the power of education and literacy, even in times of war and oppression.

What I find most interesting about banned books are the reasons listed for challenging or removing a book. Listed reasons for challenging Nasreen’s Secret School are “religious viewpoint,” “unsuited to age group” and “violence.” While Nasreen and her grandmother certainly come from a different religious background, their beliefs never overshadow the larger story and I found no violence, only the oppression of the Taliban on Nasreen and her family. As for “unsuited for age group,” that qualification changes from parent to school to library.

Do I think it’s ironic that a book celebrating the transformative power of education and reading has itself been challenged or removed from classrooms and libraries? Absolutely. Nasreen’s story reminds us how important education (and books!) can be to both children and adults.

Have you read a banned book lately? Are you surprised by any books on the Top Ten List? Let us know in the comments and tune in for more posts about Banned Books this week!

-Adina

Adina enjoys cooking and eating (mostly eating), ranting about books and watching movies with her friends. You can find her working at the West End branch or relaxing in her cozy apartment.