When someone bans a book, they're essentially saying others aren't allowed to read it. People have banned books for various reasons throughout human history. Sometimes it's offense over language, violence, or sexual content. Sometimes it's because books put out messages that challenge governments, religion, or other societal ideas. Whatever the reason behind it, banning books is still a type of censorship. Banning a book takes away someone's choice to read the book and make up his or her own mind about the content. For many, it is a type of intellectual control. People think by removing a book from the reach of others, they can stop people from acting or thinking in certain ways.
Now, do I think there are books out there that are terrible? Yes. Books that promote racism, sexism, and all the other hates in the world are books I would never want to read. And that's the thing: I don't want to read them. That's my choice. I don't agree with their views, but I don't have the right to force others to read or not read them. That's what banning does. It takes away choice and freedom of speech. A parent is within his or her rights if they don't think a book is appropriate for their child. They don't, however, have the right to decide what books are inappropriate for everyone else's children.
I live in the U.S., and there's no official "Banned Books Council" with some great, far-reaching power to make certain books illegal to all people everywhere. When we talk about a book being banned, it's usually been banned by a school, a church, or some other group. A "banned book" is simply a book that someone, somewhere has tried to put on a list and keep from others. Some of the greatest classics of all time have been on banned books lists, often for the very reasons that make them classics: they present ideas that make you question the world around you. Plenty of modern books are constantly being banned too. The Harry Potter books were banned by a number of churches for "teaching witchcraft" to children. My Vampire Academy books were banned by a school in Texas because teenagers have sex in the series.
Banned Books Week encourages you to spread the word about this issue and take a stand for freedom of speech and information. Check out commonly banned books and see what ideas in them are so shocking to others. The ALA sponsors Banned Books Week and has a lot of great resources here. There's also a nice AARP article here that lists some commonly banned books and the reasons why.
In closing, people often send me condolences about VA being banned by that school in Texas. Honestly, though, I'm not offended at all. Like I said, many books that are banned are ones that make people think, and if VA has made that list and is controversial enough for someone to hold a meeting over it, then I'm honored. And I'm actually kind of amused that they banned the entire series before it was finished--meaning my books have been banned...IN THE FUTURE.
Do you have favorite banned books? Two of mine are Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird.