Banned Children’s Books: The Usual Suspects and Few Surprises.
“Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.” Alfred Whitney from Essays on Education
Not so many years ago when my own child was just an itty-bitty little thing, I found a copy of “Bonjour Babar!” at a garage sale for just a buck. Because I remember reading Babar with my grandmother, I was psyched to acquire my very own copy to continue the tradition.
But once we got snuggled up in bed and actually started reading, I grew concerned. Wait… I don’t remember these stories being so… uh… politically incorrect.
Over the years, the Babar stories have been repeatedly banned because they are charged with being “racist” and “extolling the virtues of a European middle-class lifestyle and disparaging the animals and people who have remained in the jungle.” Babar has been labeled “Eurocentric” by its detractors.
Yep, that pretty much sums up my feelings from that night a few years back (except with fancier words) but is it reason enough to ban the jolly elephant in a green suit? Or to even burn the book?
Yay! It’s Banned Book Week. Calm down all you anti-intellectual, religious-extremist zealots. That doesn’t mean the American Library Association (ALA) is taking your suggestions for new books to add to the “frequently challenged list.” It means we’re celebrating the freedom to read by shedding light on books that have been banned. And some of them are pretty silly. Not to mention unexpected.
Would you be shocked to learn that in 2009 alone, there were 460 attempts to ban books? Undoubtedly the most famous banned children’s books in recent years were the Harry Potter and Twilight series. The reason most often given for censoring theses phenomenally popular and seemingly harmless novels was that they promote “unchristian magic.”
Throughout history, some of our most familiar books have been banned, including the children’s classics as Little Red Riding Hood—because Little Red Riding Hood gives her grandmother a bottle of wine which some feared would encourage drinking. Another children’s favorite, Harriet the Spy, was banned because it supposedly taught children to “lie, spy, back-talk, and curse.”
Ah, so Harriet the Spy is where those pesky kids got all those bad habits from?
Predictably, some of the most enduring classics of American literature have been banned including J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
It’s interesting to note that the “banned books” list and the “best books” list frequently include many of the very same titles.
Among the young adult novels that have been banned are Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson; the Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry; Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George; and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
I must confess that Judy Blume is one of my heroes, and that was before I learned that she is possibly the most censored author of young adult literature alive. Her characters frank depiction of teenage concerns and social behavior invites strong identification from her readership but also strong objections from parents and schools.
Specifically, Blubber has been challenged repeatedly because of the book’s language and the lack of consequences for the characters that torment a fifth-grade classmate. It currently stands at 30th on the ALA’s “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999.”
Take a look at the ALA’s list of banned kidslit books from last year. After the title and author of each book are the reasons cited for the challenges.
The 10 Most Frequently Challenged Children’s Books of 2009
- ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs
- And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson Reasons: Homosexuality
- The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide
- To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
- Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
- Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
- My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence
- The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
- The Color Purple, Alice Walker Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
- The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
And here’s the first 10 books on the overall most challenged list.
The 100 Most Challenged Books of the Decade (2000-2009)
- Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
- Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
- And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
- Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
- Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
- His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
- ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chosky (See the ALA Web site for the entire list.)
So those are the usual suspects, but here’s a few kids’ books that might surprise you.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket has been challenged for scary and/or violent matter.
Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes, challenged for containing issues related to growing up and adolescence such as death and puberty.
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein, apparently for a single poem and accompanying illustration which suggests that children could avoid washing dishes by breaking them.
Winnie-the-Pooh has been banned in some Muslim countries like Turkey because the character of Piglet is supposedly offensive to Muslims. Also, Russia banned Winnie-the-Pooh, because it promoted Nazism, allegedly based on a single radical drawing.
This next one is my all-time favorite.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell was banned by Apartheid-based South African government from 1948 to 1994 due to its title. Apparently, white Nationalist Party leaders mistakenly thought the book was about a black African woman. I guess the question is did they not read it or were they just stupid?
Hey news flash, people! The very fact that a book is banned often makes kids want to read it more to figure out why they’re not supposed to. Gosh, maybe if someone had banned Beowulf it would have made me actually want to read it back in high school.
So what did we do with Babar? Well, we continued to read it, but I was selective about what parts of the book we focused on.
Cause see, that’s my job as a parent!
I took into account the fact that the child was far too young to have any idea of what a “Euro-centric” view of the world meant, but she probably shouldn’t see the racially offensive drawings of the black “savages.” Thanks for your suggestions, all you book-banning-fanatics, but I don’t need someone else to determine what my kid should or shouldn’t read.
I’m just going to let my radical hero wrap things up for me here on the topic of banning children’s books. “Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won’t have as much censorship because we won’t have as much fear.” —Judy Blume