It’s that time of year again – the trees are turning from green to brilliant, fiery hues; pumpkin spice lattes are back on the Starbucks menu; and book lovers everywhere are celebrating Banned Books Week. Every year, institutions receive a number of challenges to remove titles from their shelves for various (and sometimes, as you will read later, ridiculous) reasons. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 464 challenges in 2012, with over 5,000 similar complaints in the past decade alone.
Parents, administrators, and patrons alike have issued challenges to classics (To Kill a Mockingbird and The Bluest Eye) and popular titles (The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey), for reasons such as explicitness, language, violence, and homosexuality. Public libraries and school classrooms and libraries experience the highest volume when it comes to requests for removal, according to the ALA, however challenges have been made at the collegiate level in both university classrooms and libraries.
A New York City public school will no longer require Sherman Alexie’s award-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian after complaints that the book is “‘like Fifty Shades of Grey for kids.’” While I’m pretty sure the teens in the novel aren’t breaking out the Ben Wa balls and restraints, the book does bring up masturbation (which, believe it or not, some teenagers do!). Sex isn’t the focus of the book, as it addresses issues of racism and identity. Other schools in Oregon, Washington, and Mississippi have also pulled the title from their required reading lists. The author defended his work: “Everything in the book is what every kid in that school is dealing with on a daily basis, whether it’s masturbation or racism or sexism or the complications of being human…To pretend that kids aren’t dealing with this on an hour-by-hour basis is a form of denial.”
Back in 2010, a New Jersey public library took the YA anthology, Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology out of circulation without an official challenge or vote to remove, claiming the book contained “child pornography.” The source? A member of Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project who met with library director, Gail Sweet, prior to the book’s removal. An email from Sweet to library staff stated, “How can we grab the books so that they never, ever get back into ccirculation [sic]. Copies need to totally disappear (as in not a good idea to send copies to the book sale).” Another area library approached by the same group also removed the anthology.
These successful challenges represent some of the extreme excuses that overly-concerned parents and patrons cite for book banning. Other explanations are downright laughable:
- In 1983, an Alabama textbook committee wanted to ban Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl because it was believed to be a “real downer.” You know, since all the other tales of life under Nazi rule are so light-hearted and upbeat.
- School boards and parents in California and Florida back in the early 90s wanted to ban “Little Red Riding Hood” for an illustration of a wine bottle and, as one Florida teacher asserted, the wolf chowing down on Little Red’s granny was “too violent.”
- The eye-straining childhood classic, Where’s Waldo? ranks on the ALA’s Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990 – 2000 because of some insidious sideboob in the first book. Editions since this microscopic detail was pointed out feature a strategically placed bikini top.
- The most astounding report came in 2010 when California’s Menifee Union School District removed copies of the 10th edition of the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary to “determine their suitability for children” after a parent complained that their child had found an explicit word’s definition. Sorry, but don’t you send your kids to school to learn?
This Banned Books Week, curl up with a good, scandalous book like Where’s Waldo?. Want to be part of the movement? Submit a video the Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out or check out your local library for events this week. Read on with your bad selves.