Spotlight on “Silenced in the Library: Banned Books in America” by Zeke Jarvis

by LitStack Editor
Silenced in the Library Banned Books in America and author Zeke Jarvis

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This examination of banned books across U.S. history examines the motivations and effects of censorship, shows us how our view of right and wrong has evolved over the years, and helps readers to understand the tremendous importance of books and films in our society.

Books ranging from classics such as A Farewell to Arms, Lord of the Rings, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Color Purple as well as best-selling books such as Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret, titles in the Harry Potter series, and various books by bestselling novelist Stephen King have all been on the banned books list. What was the content that got them banned, who wanted them banned, and did the ban have the desired effect of minimizing the number of people who read the title-or did it have the opposite effect, inadvertently creating an even larger readership for the book?

Silenced in the Library: Banned Books in America provides a comprehensive examination of the challenges to major books as well as the final results of these selections being deemed “unfit for public consumption.” Included in its discussion are explanations of the true nature of the objections along with the motives of the authors, publishers, and major proponents of the books. Content is organized based on why the books were banned, such as sexual content, drug use, or religious objections. 

This approach helps readers to see trends in how people have approached the challenge of evaluating what is “proper” and shows how our societal consensus of what is acceptable has evolved over the years. Readers will come away with a fuller appreciation of the immense power of words on a page-or an eReader device-to inflame and outrage, influence opinion, incite thought, and even change the course of history.

School Library Journal

Jarvis offers a detailed look at book banning, arranging challenged titles by topic (race, religion, sex, etc.) and then chronologically. They range in age level from prekindergarten (And Tango Makes Three; Where’s Waldo) through adult. Many of the selections are considered classics and are included in school curricula or found in school libraries. Seasoned librarians may be aware of many of the books, though others might be surprised to learn that some consider Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic controversial. 

The author provides a brief overview of censorship, including industry-imposed ratings boards as well as governmental standards and parent and religious group challenges. For each of the approximately 150 titles, he supplies a comprehensive plot synopsis, reasons why the book was contested, and the resolutions. Jarvis does not suggest how librarians should respond to a challenge, but the further reading at the end of each entry directs readers to a deeper title-specific discussion. The cross references by title, author, and subject make the volume even more user-friendly. Readers will need to look past the consistent misspelling of Newbery (misspelled Newberry), as a number of challenged books have Newbery Honor and Medal recognition. 

VERDICT: A useful professional resource, particularly for novice librarians and those unfamiliar with censorship issues.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

The writing is clear and straightforward, and although the author clearly dislikes censorship, he is not didactic and does explain why some people want to censor materials. . . . This volume offers a unique perspective by summarizing censorship issues topically and providing deeper coverage of significant banned titles.”—Booklist

“The general introduction provides an overview of censorship from a broad, historical point of view including the role of the government, publishers, and the effects on literature for children and young adults. . . .Each entry includes a brief description of the book followed by examples of censorship attempts and the reasons behind the challenges. The descriptions are interesting and well written. . . . There is an alphabetical list of titles and authors and a list by subject. There is an extensive bibliography and a well-developed index.”—ARBAonline

“Readers gain a fuller understanding of the historical context and trends in societal views of what has been deemed both proper and unfit for public consumption. . . . Summing Up: Recommended. All levels of students through professionals/practitioners; general readers.”—Choice

“Silenced in the Library would certainly be an asset in planning informed and engaging programming related to censorship and intellectual freedom for any literacy and library advocate.”—Libraries: Culture, History & Society

Silenced in the Library

Zeke Jarvis is an associate professor of English at Eureka College in Eureka, IL, USA.

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