Out of curiosity, I decided to investigate why some of the books on my own personal list had been challenged/banned. Here’s what I found.
From Banned Books.com:
by Ray Bradbury
This book is about censorship and those who ban books for fear of creating too much individualism and independent thought. In late 1998, this book was removed from the required reading list of the West Marion High School in Foxworth, Mississippi. A parent complained of the use of the words “God damn” in the book. Subsequently, the superintendent instructed the the teacher to remove the book from the required reading list.
|Nineteen Eighty-Four||George Orwell||Political novel||Banned in the USSR for political reasons. Accused of anti-semitism. Challenged in Florida for pro communist and sexual theme.|
|Ulysses||James Joyce||Novel||Challenged and temporarily banned in the US for its sexual content. Ban overturned in United States v. One Book Called Ulysses.|
From Banned Books Online:
Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Defoe’s Moll Flanders, and various editions of The Arabian Nights were all banned for decades from the U.S. mails under the Comstock Law of 1873. Officially known as the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, this law banned the mailing of “lewd”, “indecent”, “filthy”, or “obscene” materials. The Comstock laws, while now unenforced, remain for the most part on the books today; the Telecommunications Reform Bill of 1996 even specifically applied some of them to computer networks. The anti-war Lysistrata was banned again in 1967 in Greece, which was then controlled by a military junta.
In Mark Twain’s lifetime, his books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were excluded from the juvenile sections of the Brooklyn Public library (among other libraries), and banned from the library in Concord, MA, home of Henry Thoreau. In recent years, some high schools have dropped Huckleberry Finn from their reading lists, or have been sued by parents who want the book dropped. In Tempe, Arizona, a parent’s lawsuit that attempted to get the local high school to remove the book from a required reading list went as far as a federal appeals court in 1998. (The court’s decision in the case, which affirmed Tempe High’s right to teach the book, has some interesting comments about education and racial tensions.) The Tempe suit, and other recent incidents, have often been concerned with the use of the word “nigger”, a word that also got Uncle Tom’s Cabin challenged in Waukegan, Illinois. For a comprehensive web site describing attempts to ban Huckleberry Finn and other Twain works, see the site Huckleberry Finn Debated, by Jim Zwick.
An illustrated edition of “Little Red Riding Hood” was banned in two California school districts in 1989. Following the Little Red-Cap story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the book shows the heroine taking food and wine to her grandmother. The school districts cited concerns about the use of alcohol in the story.
From Canada’s Freedom to Read website:
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. 2001 – Although there is no known instance of a challenge to this novel in Canada, it ranks 37th on the American Library Associan’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books in the 1990s. Most recently it caused a controversy when placed on the reading list for senior high school students in Dripping Springs (TX), a town 40 kilometres southwest of Austin. Cause of objection–a group of parents said the book was anti-Christian and pornographic. Update–An ad hoc committee appointed to consider the objections decided to leave the book on the list, although the parents said they would appeal the school board’s decision.
Keyes, Daniel. Flowers for Algernon.
1970. In Cranbrook (BC), the school board banned this science fiction novel from the Grade 9 curriculum and school libraries. The story is about a mentally retarded adult who becomes a genius after having a brain operation. Cause of objection–a parent complained that the book was “filthy and immoral.” Update–The president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation criticized the book’s removal. The board reconsidered its decision and returned the novel to the school library; however, trustees did not lift the ban ont he book in the curriculum.
Parents of the Blue Valley School District in Kansas are currently petitioning for this and thirteen other books to be removed from all high school classrooms in the district due to “vulgar language, sexual explicitness, or violent imagery that is gratuitously employed.” To read their objections to this novel, click here.
This book was removed from the Highland, Illinois school district because of its depiction of a gay character. A concerned parent contacted Coville, who helped address the fact that the school board did not follow a proper process in making this decision. Coville says, “The banning of a book is a serious act. To do it in secret undermines the very foundations of a free society.” (Source: Author and local residents of Highland, Illinois).
Library Patrons of Texas protested this book by the award-winning author of Summer of My German Soldier. They objected to the content of the book, in which a young girl is shocked by the hatred – and ultimate violence – her boyfriend shows toward two gay men who move to their small Southern town.
The Anastasia Series by Lois LowryPreteen girls have been enjoying Lowry’s popular Anastasia series for over 25 years. Lowry was shocked to hear that a parent from Polk County School District in Florida wants to remove six of the Anastasia books from school libraries in the district. Kristi Hardee, the mother of a fourth-grader in the district, objects to references to stuffing and snapping bras in the series. To read more, click here.
The Giver by Lois LowryBlue Valley School District in Kansas reviewed this futuristic novel about a young man’s growing disillusionment with an outwardly utopian society, following parent complaints that it was “lewd” and “twisted.” Parents also claimed it is “unfit for analysis by students because it is violent, sexually explicit and portrays infanticide and euthanasia.” One parent said, “This book is negative. I read it. I don’t see the academic value in it. Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative.” The novel, which has been compared to Brave New World, won the Newbery Medal in 1994. Proponents of the ban are asking that the book be removed from the entire district’s eighth grade reading list (1/6/05). To read more about the debate, click here.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. TaylorA parent in Oviedo, Florida, demanded that this frequently-challenged, award-winning novel be banned from all schools in Seminole County. She objected to its depiction of Southern racism, which she considered inappropriate for kids. While Seminole officials allowed the book to remain in schools, they now require specific training for teachers who intend to use the book in classrooms. To read more, click here.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain This classic novel was removed from three Renton, Washington high schools after an African-American student complained that the book’s use of the word ‘nigger’ offended her. Teachers protested that Twain was actually attacking racism and opening the door for important discussions about American history. After reviewing the case, school officials have suspended use of the book in area schools until a panel of teachers and outside advisors develop a sensitive method of presentation. To read more, click here.
From the Forbidden Library:
1984 . George Orwell. Harcourt. Challenged in the Jackson County, Fla. (1981) because the novel is “pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter.” Big Brother doesn’t want people reading such things.
Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer. Bantam; Bobbs-Merrill; Doubleday; Penguin; Raintree Pubs.; NAL; Univ. of Okla. Pr. People have long been squeamish with this one…It was subjected to revisions as 1928, and editions today tend to avoid four letter words. It was removed from a senior college preparatory literature course at the Eureka, Ill. High School (1995) for sexual content. I believe Chaucer would be amused.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl. Bantam; Knopf; Penguin. Removed from a locked reference collection at the Boulder, Colo. Public Library (1988), where it had been placed because the librarian thought the book espoused a poor philosophy of life.
A Doll’s House. Henrik Ibsen. Penguin. Four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committe (1983)–presumably the same who objected to The Diary of Anne Frank –called for the rejection of this work because it propagates feminist views.
The Figure in the Shadows. John Bellairs. Dell. Restricted at the Dysart Unified School District libraries in El Mirage, Ariz. (1990) because of two uses of profanity and because of its link to magic. This book is terrific for middle school readers. It is the second book in a series which starts with The House With a Clock in its Walls.
A Light in the Attic. Shel Silverstein. Harper. Challenged at the Cunningham Elementary School in Beloit, Wis. (1985) because the book “enourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” Removed from Minot, N.Dak. Public School libraries when the superintendent found “suggestive illustrations.” Challenged at the Big Bend Elementary School library in Mukwonago, Wis. (1986) because some of Silverstein’s poems “glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient.”
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis. Macmillan. Challenged in the Howard County, Md. school system (1990) because it depicts “graphic violence, mysticism, and gore.” I’m sure the school system would rather have its children reading something which adheres to “good Christian values.” I cannot recommend the works of C.S. Lewis highly enough. The Narnia books, in particular, are great for readers of all ages.
The Lorax. Dr. Seuss. Random. Challenged in the Laytonville, Calif. Unified School District (1989) because it “criminalizes the foresting industry.” Isn’t that the de-foresting industry?
The Odyssey. Homer. Airmont; Doubleday; Harper; Macmillan; MAL; Oxford Univ. Pr.; Penguin. Plato suggested expurgating it for immature readers (387 B.C.) and Caligula tried to suppress it because it expressed Greek ideals of freedom.
Raisin in the Sun. Lorraine Hansberry. Random. The Ogden, Utah School District (1979) restricted circulation of Hansberry’s play in response to criticism from an anti-pornography organization. Did they read the same play I read?
Where the Sidewalk Ends. Shel Silverstein. Harper. Challenged at the West Allis-West Milwaukee, Wis. school libraries (1986) because the book “suggests drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for legitimate authority, rebellion against parents.” Challenged at the Central Columbia School District in Bloomsburg, Pa. (1993) because a poem titled “Dreadful” talks about how “someone ate the baby.” On the other hand, this book does present the negative consequences of not taking the garbage out.
Where’s Waldo? Martin Handford. Little. Challenged at the Public Libraries of Saginaw, Mich. (1989), Removed from the Springs Public School library in East Hampton, N.Y. (1993) because there is a tiny drawing of a woman lying on the beach wearing a bikini bottom but no top. Yes, but did they find Waldo?
The Witches of Worm. Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Atheneum. Challenged at the Hays, Kans. Public Library (1989) because it “could lead young readers to embrace satanism.” The Newbery Award-winning book was retained on the approved reading list at Matthew Henson Middle School in Waldorf, Md. (1991) despite objections to its references to the occult.
A Wrinkle In Time. Madeleine L’Engle. Dell. Challenged at the Polk City, Fla. Elementary School (1985) by a parent who believed that the story promotes witchcraft, crystal balls, and demons. Challenged in the Anniston Ala. schools (1990). The complainant objected to the book’s listing the name of Jesus Christ together with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders when referring to those who defend earth against evil. Got it. Let’s cross Jesus off that list, shall we?
People are stupid. One could argue all day about how Mark Twain was arguing against racism, as was Harper Lee, but it would be worse than arguing with a brick wall. The brick wall would not argue back. One could argue all day about how George Orwell was pointing out that Communism is a bad thing, and how the things he depicts in 1984 are things vastly to be undesired. Again, the brick wall would not argue back, but the people in favor of banning 1984 would continue to insist that the book espouses Communism.
So the best way to fight this stupidity is not to waste your time arguing with those stupid people. It is to write good books, regardless of what those stupid people will say or do about them. Read good books, even if they have been banned or challenged. Become a banned or challenged book. Participate in activities like Banned Book Week, but don’t limit yourself to one week a year. Wear your Banned Books tee-shirt even when it’s not banned books week. Be loud, outspoken, obnoxious. And don’t be stupid! Of course, if you were stupid, you wouldn’t be reading this blog, now would you?