Display Ideas for Banned Books Week

For more ideas, please consult the Action Guide, Suggested Activites chapter of the Banned Books Resource Guide, by Robert P. Doyle, which is available for purchase at the ALA Store.  You may also find it at your local public library.

SPRAY PAINT—People Like Us, a gay and lesbian bookstore in Chicago, created a "graffiti" look in their Banned Books Week display. Using brown wrapping paper and black spray paint, the window presented a feeling of "something forbidden."

DISPLAY—The Illinois State Library displayed banned books behind brown paper, carefully ripped to illustrate the display.

DISPLAY a small collection of "dangerous" book in a prominent location under a sign that provocatively exclaims, "Don't Read These Books." Wrap "banned books" in brown paper, print the title and reason for the banning on individual cards, and tape a card to each book.

IMPROVE—Iron your Banned Books Week Posters.  Barbara Ungar, co-owner of the House of Books in Dallas, Texas, gave us these tips to eliminate all those nasty creases.  Here's how:

  1.  First the poster arrives. At best, it's got some folds; at worst, it's a mess. You groan.
  2. Cut two pieces of brown wrapping paper about the same size as the poster or a little larger.
  3. Put one of those pieces on your counter.
  4. Put the poster on the top of the wrapping paper, face down.
  5. Put the other piece of brown paper on the top of the poster.
  6. Put your iron on low heat (no steam, please!) and iron. This is just one of those booksellers' tips handed down through the ages, but it really and truly works.

PAINT a poster for a window display on a window shade. R. Kent Fordyce, Book Buyer, Lambda Rising in Washington, D.C., wanted a strong image for the bookstore's banned books window display. "Some of the strongest visual art imagery appears in political posters, especially the designs from Third World radical artists. After prowling through five stores and leafing through a couple hundred posters, I found an image in the upper left hand corner of a poster from Latin America that I modified to produce our window’s banner. The banner, combined with a display of banned books and accompanying blurbs taken from this book, stopped a lot of people who normally hurry past our own store. Many, after reading the blurbs, came into the store to browse. I knew the banner was a success when someone overheard one “punk” woman turn to another, point to the banner, and say, “COOL!”

DISPLAY—The University of New Mexico Bookstore displayed widely known books that have been challenged or banned in a small black “jail” built expressly for the purpose with red and black CENSORED signs woven through the “prison bars.” University of Indiana-Purdue University, Indianapolis, IN, bookstores placed books in bamboo bird cages with the sign “Banned Books are for the Birds.” The display windows at Blue Ridge Books, Roanoke, Virginia, was bare during Banned Books Week, representing the attempts by various people or groups during the past year to keep books they deem objectionable from being read.  People stood on the sidewalk outside the Main Street store and read excerpts from books recently challenged.  Inside, store owners Bob and Teresa Lazo displayed books challenged or banned in the past 12 months.

PROMOTE your books and displays. Chapter One Bookstore in Pittsford, New York, printed brown-and-white T-shirts depicting a gagged William Shakespeare and used a “Tom Sawyer” type fence (made from brown paper) with a knot hole and the inscription “Caution—if you look through here you may see some banned books!” Some booksellers placed bands or stickers on books, store bags, or receipts saying “banned.”

INRIGUE customers or patrons by painting a display window almost entirely black, leaving only a small peep hole; then paint the word “caution” in large red letters, which will encourage them to peer in and see books that have been banned or challenged in the past.

DISPLAY the dust jackets of banned books with accompanying cards explaining the challenged and listing a favorable review. The School of Library Science at the University of North Caroline found this to be a very effective display for their bulletin board.

DEMONSTRATE the inaccessibility of banned books by roping off a section of the bookstore or library and allow into the area only those customers or patrons with an entry ticket. The Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, found this to be very effective.

DISPLAY books on and by persons who valued intellectual freedom—Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Maya Angelou, John Peter Zenger, Henry Thoreau, Judy Blume, James Baldwin, Thomas Paine, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, John Thomas Scopes, etc.

DISPLAY—The Brown University Bookstore, Providence, Rhode Island, window display was based on a Fahrenheit 451 theme. A Photostat was made and displayed on an easel with the quote, “The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning . . . along with the houses in which they were hidden.” Books were depicted as though they were being burned at the stake. Banned books were glued to a post and then wrapped with rope. At the bottom of the display were more books and twigs with red, orange, and yellow acetate, which gave the appearance of fire at the base of the window. The bookstore also contacted local anchors to participate in a highly successful public readout.

FIND a container that can hold several grab bags. Stuff the bags with information and/or examples of banned authors, movies, and ideas. Then label each so they say “anti-Christian,” “sexist,” or “communistic.” Place them in local libraries, bookstores, or offices. The outside display could say “Keep Away” or “Dangerous Reading.”

DISPLAY—Anne’s Book Shop in Sharon, Massachusetts, had a store window painted “graffiti-style,” “Warning! These Books Are Dangerous,” with titles of banned books scattered over the glass. Inside the store, four shelves of books were covered with brown paper and ripped open. Red ribbons (“red tape”) crisscrossed the display. Lots of books were sold from the display!

CREATE a bulletin board display using a top ten list as used by David Letterman. Use this book to compile a list or try the following suggestions.

Ten most farfetched (silliest, irrational, illogical) reasons to ban a book.

  1. “Encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” ( A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstien)
  2. “It caused a wave of rapes.” ( Arabian Nights, or Thousand and One Nights, anonymous)
  3. “If there is a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?” ( Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown)
  4. “Tarzan was ‘living in sin’ with Jane.” ( Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
  5. “It is a real ‘downer.’” ( Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank)
  6. “The basket carried by Little Red Riding Hood contained a bottle of wine, which condones the use of alcohol.” ( Little Red Riding Hood, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm K. Grimm)
  7. “One bunny is white and the other is black and this ‘brainwashes’ readers into accepting miscegenation.” ( The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams)
  8. “It is a religious book and public funds should not be used to purchase religious books.” ( Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, by Walter A. Elwell, ed.)
  9. “A female dog is called a bitch.” ( My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara)
  10. “An unofficial version of the story of Noah’s Ark will confuse children.” ( Many Waters, by Madeleine C. L’Engle)

DISPLAY a timeline of Constitutional Amendments on your bulletin board. Show different books that relate to the amendments.

CONSTRUCT a “Graffiti Wall” made up of large sheets of paper upon which students are encouraged to “write” about their own thoughts and responses to censorship and banning. The sheets can be organized by topics and themes that could change periodically. The “graffitied” paper can be saved for later displays.

POST First Amendment quotes at strategic locations in your library or shop. West High School in Davenport, Iowa, printed quotes in large letters, using computer software, and posted them in a sequence in a long hallway.

WRAP a display of books in yellow CAUTION tape.  Maureen Irwin at the Roland Park County School in Baltimore, Maryland, stated that “The year I did this, the Mother Goose and Grimm comic strip had a clever comic about censoring fairy tales. I posted that on the door, and added “It gets worse . . . Come in and follow the yellow tape!’ With the displayed books, I put a poster that said, ‘Don’t Read These Books!: Some People Think They Are Dangerous!’ This display also included the ALA’s Banned Books: Resource Book, so kids could look up and see why their favorites were banned.  It was a big hit, especially with the teachers.”

BRING a stack of books with you to classrooms,” suggests Sarah Applegate at the River Ridge High School in Lacey, Washington, “and talk about them. Afterwards, throw them in the garbage can.” Another dramatic suggestion from Applegate is to “Give a book talk about banned books and then have an administrator come in and ‘get the teacher in trouble’ for talking about banned books.