Yesterday, I read an article on the Christian Science Monitor website, it’s a list of 20 (Surprisingly) Banned Books. The CSM has a really terrific book section. I highly recommend it, I get a lot of reading ideas there.
The books referenced aren’t universally banned but have been banned in certain states at one time or another. Banning any book is abominable. For the record, I don’t consider librarian discretion to be the same as banning books. There are books that simply don’t belong in an elementary school library or the children’s section of a library. The books listed in the CSM article were banned from reading in schools for what are, to me, ridiculous reasons.
“Book banning” removes the reader’s right to read, think, discriminate, reason over language, politics, social mores, etc. I have always been irked by people’s upset over the vernacular used in one of my all time favoritest books, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” I’m sure most of you know that the word “nigger” is used throughout the book. People don’t like the “N” word. I don’t use it. I don’t like the sound of it but I understand that at the time “Huckleberry Finn” was written and the setting of the story requires the use of that word, which was commonplace in Southern states at the time. “Huckleberry Finn” is a masterwork because of how the dialogue is written. Twain wrote true to the time and place. While times and language have changed and society doesn’t approve of such language anymore; that does not mean the book isn’t worth reading. The book is an anti-slavery treatise but if the reader gets hung up on a word, the overarching theme of the novel is lost. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. But don’t ban it and deprive students of an American literary treasure.
Here are some of the books listed on CSM.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh — One of my most beloved books from childhood, I made a journal and spied just like Harriet. I was jealous that she lived in NYC where spying was way better than Lake Oswego. I have read “Harriet” a couple of times as an adult and it is still wonderful. This book was banned for setting a bad example for children teaching them to spy, lie, and swear. I should be banned as a parent, except for the lying part.
The Dictionary – Has been banned from libraries in California because it includes sexual definitions. That’s so wrong. What third grader hasn’t gotten their jollies looking up the words: penis, vagina and masturbate? Sheesh.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm — These have been banned because the original fairy tales weren’t all Disneyfied and the ugly step sisters cut off their toes to fit in the glass slipper. The wolf ate people. Nasty things happened and the tales teach readers lessons about greed and vanity and trust. I read the Brother’s Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen when I was a kid and I’m fine.
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein — When I was in the 6th grade and we had to memorize poems and recite them in front of the class, almost everyone chose poems from Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” The man was a genius and his books continue to lure young readers into the joys of poetry. “It was banned in Florida because in the eyes of other readers it promotes violence and disrespect.” You know what? Florida should be banned because it promotes violence and disrespect.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder — This was banned in South Dakota for language that offended Native Americans, I’m assuming the word “injun” comes into play. I loved this series both as a kid and as a parent reading it to my children. It’s a true story about pioneers set during the 1850s, get over it. I was struck when reading it to my girls how self-sufficient pioneer children were. Can you imagine leaving an 8-year-old in charge of the house in a blizzard and letting them light a fire and take care of the baby? I can barely do that.
Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. — “The classic children’s book was banned by the State Board of Education in Texas in 2010 due to a simple mistake. A board member mixed up Martin with another author named Bill Martin who had written a book for adults titled “Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.” There ain’t no cure fer stoopid.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck — I’m not surprised this book has been banned at times for “indecent content” and apparently by Kern County, California because some local politician didn’t care for the depiction of fictional residents of the county. Potential legitimate reason for banning it: it is unceasingly depressing and the final scene with the breast feeding freaked me out when I first read the book in high school.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl — Schools prefer the edited version which removed some sexual content which is an insult to everything her diary stands for. This could be my favorite reason that any book, especially this one, was challenged by an Alabama school board in the ’80s, “according to the board’s records, it was “a real downer.” Totally. The Holocaust and the millions of people hiding and being captured and tortured and murdered, total buzzkill dude.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl — At some point this book was in a “locked reference collection” in a Colorado library because a librarian thought it embraced a “poor philosophy of life.” Yeah Charlie ya loser, life isn’t all golden tickets buddy.
Where’s Waldo by Martin Hanford — Apparently one of the drawings had a topless cartoon woman on the beach. If you find that, you’re looking too hard and should develop other interests. Potential legitimate reason for banning: Waldo looks annoying.
Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault — Some California schools banned this book because wine was in Red’s basket for her grandmother. Hmmm, ironic.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee — I refuse to discuss this. I am distressed that I can’t find my copy of TKAM. Brigid read it last, perhaps she knows. I have looked in Annie’s room because it is her favorite book but it’s not there, either. Ladies??
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell — I think we all know the problems here and how ridiculous they are for yet another great American novel.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer — This book has been banned over the years for sexual content. Here’s a quote and you’ll understand why, “Thi clerk was cleped hende Ncholas. Of derne love he coude and of solas.” Leaving this book in a school library would be exactly the same as letting them have “50 Shades of Gray”.