Banned books week has come and gone this year so please excuse me for the lateness of the post but I was moved to write it in response to the fact that my favorite kids book of the year is currently undergoing censorship scrutiny. A pair of Minnesotan parents went through the magical Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and “counted 227 offending words, including 67 Gods, 24 Jesuses and 4 Christs” according to a 13-page report they filed. The other 133 words? That would be profanity of a far saltier variety. But if you’d bother to, oh I dunno, read the book, you’d discover the context. And the context is this, the profanity comes in the form of written bullying messages that terrorize our young female protagonist. They’re not f-bombs tossed around casually by the teenaged Park and Eleanor (who, by the way, don’t swear, smoke, drink or do drugs). The words are meant to be upsetting and provoking. I’ve already written about how beautiful I think this book is. About how I stayed up until three in the morning so I could finish it. So it breaks my heart on a personal level that the Minnesotan school district caved to prudish, ill-informed parental pressure and both the district and the public library cancelled the speaker’s fee they had offered Rowell to come speak to students. And when Rowell offered to come for free? They said no thank you.
Rowell was, according to her blog, absolutely devastated by this treatment. She wrote “When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible. That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful.” I understand the desire for some parents to curb and control what their children read. I don’t, however, understand a vocal, reactionary minority attempting to control what other children are exposed to. So that the lovely Rainbow Rowell feels like she’s in good company, I’ve amassed this list of 30 well-loved Children’s books that have been banned or challenged. Many of them you know, some might be a surprise and, trust me, there are far more than 30 titles that could go on this list. But before we get to the books I want to make something clear. Just because it’s often Christian or Fundamentalist Groups who call for books to be banned and I’m firmly anti-censorship, that doesn’t mean I’m anti-Christian. Far from it. The list is also peppered with overly sensitive activists who, in my opinion, took political correctness too far.
Alice In Wonderland: You’ll see this reason crop up over and over again on this list but apparently it’s quite objectionable in certain countries to show animals talking. To wit (from China): “Animals should not use human language, and that it was disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level.” Alice was also banned here in the US for, among other reasons, references to masturbation. I must have missed the part where The Caterpillar caressed his “hookah.”
Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Girl: This year (THIS YEAR) in New Hampshire, the Holocaust classic was challenged in Michigan for the following reasons: “It’s pretty graphic, and it’s pretty pornographic for seventh-grade boys and girls to be reading. It’s inappropriate for a teacher to be giving this material out to the kids when its really the parents’ job to give the students this information.” Though the book wasn’t banned in Michigan, it was briefly banned in Virginia in, wait for it, 2010.
Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? : This one is very disappointing. Because they were so eager to ban author Bill Martin who wrote Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation, the Texas State Board Of Education accidentally also banned Bill Martin Jr. (no relation), the author of Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? Inspires confidence, no? Once again, this was 2010.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory: Roald Dahl’s classic was initially challenged because the depictions of the Oompa Loompas (small, black pygmies) was deemed racist. Dahl, taken aback, changed the description of the Oompa Loompas in the revised 1988 edition to be “‘knee-high dwarves’ with ‘rosy-white’ skin and funny long ‘golden-brown’ hair who came from ‘Loompaland.’” That wasn’t enough for one Colorado librarian who locked the revised edition in the reference collection because “the book espouses a poor philosophy of life” and because Charlie has no “tremendously positive traits, only an absence of negative ones.” I’ll let Gene Wilder take this one.
Charlotte’s Web: Once again, it’s the old talking animals issue. This time in Kansas. The book was called “inappropriate subject matter for a children’s book.” That was in 2006. In 2003 an English Headteacher removed all books that featured pigs lest they potentially offend a Muslim student. The Muslim Council of Britain called the move “well-intentioned but misguided” and requested the books be reinstated. “Well-intentioned but misguided?” Putting it lightly.
Coraline: Rumors rumors everywhere that this Neil Gaiman book has been challenged or banned. It pops up on several lists. I haven’t been able to find the exact instance, however, so I’ll leave you with this charming Gaiman blog on banning and this even more charming Gaiman tweet.
The Dictionary: How would you? Why would you? Right here in California (Southern California, I’ll stress), the 10th edition was banned for daring to define “oral sex.” That was, once again, in 2010 which, apparently, was a banner years for bans.
Fat Kid Rules The World: Challenged and banned in both South Carolina and Illinois in 2007 and 2008 for the admittedly mature content. It’s a shame because the message is so sweet and so poignantly delivered.
The Giver: This book was banned as recently as 1994 in Southern California for sexual situations and depictions of death, specifically euthanasia. Sure, death, let’s not talk about that.
The Giving Tree: Because the tree is overly compliant and, yes, giving and the boy is demanding and selfish this book has been called sexist.
Green Eggs And Ham: This book was banned in China for 1965-1991 for depicting “early Marxism.” While Seuss called himself “subversive as hell,” I really doubt this was his agenda.
Harriet The Spy: This book was challenged in the 1980s in Ohio for teaching “children to lie, spy, back-talk and curse.”
Harry Potter: We all know this one. Harry Potter, the most beloved children’s series of the modern era, a series so potent it got even non-reading children to line up at midnight for its release, has been challenged and banned all over for promoting godless witchcraft.
His Dark Materials: Much like Harry Potter, the objection here is a religious one. Though I strongly disagree with the complaint, it is, in this instance, far more justified. Phillip Pullman’s beautiful trilogy does, yes yes, involve some kids on a mission to kill God (aka The Authority). So I can see how that might make some parents look askance. Though Pullman is vocally, frankly anti-organized religion, I don’t think he’s anti-faith. He’s said: “[I]n my view, belief in God seems to be a very good excuse, on the part of those who claim to believe, for doing many wicked things that they wouldn’t feel justified in doing without such a belief.” Regardless of your beliefs, I think the book creates such a luscious world and is such an interesting jumping off place for discussions of faith that it would be a shame to deny any child access.
James And The Giant Peach: There are a number of reasons why this whimsical adventure has been banned (racism! defying authority! drug use!) but this reason, from Wisconsin, has to be my favorite: “The Times of London reported that it was once banned in a Wisconsin town because a reference to a spider licking her lips could be ‘taken in two ways, including sexual.’” OKAY.
The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe: On the other side of the Harry Potter/His Dark Materials coin is this book which has been challenged by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. You know, on account of the Jesus Lion and all.
Little House On The Prairie: Once again, allegations of racism abound and many object to Wilder’s description of the Native Americans in this book. But if you ban the Little House books, how else will children learn to use every part of the pig? AND I MEAN EVERY PART.
Little Women: This is a funny one. Louisa May Alcott, a staunch feminist, wrote Jo March, one of the sassiest, smartest female characters in American fiction way back in 1869. Was the book challenged then for being too feminist? Possibly. But it’s been challenged more recently for not being feminist enough. Why? Because of that whole “Meg burns the jelly” chapter? Ye gods.
The Lorax: Banned in 1989 in California for being too harsh on the logging industry. In this instance, Seuss knew exactly what he was doing.
Lord Of The Flies: One of the most frequently banned and challenged books the complaint here, of course, is violence.
Of Mice And Men: Not strictly a book for children, no, but often taught in schools, this book has been challenged and banned for over 50 years due to provocative language and violence. Another complaint is that the book is anti-business. Is it? Is Steinbeck responsible for a huge dip in the the rabbit farming industry?
The Outsiders: SE Hinton’s book has been challenged for drugs, violence and that old standby “unchristian values.” Stay gold, vigilant religious types.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower: Just this year the great Judy Blume went to bat for this sexually explicit (and troubling) young adult novel which had been banned from a Chicago School District. Weirdly, the book’s most vocal opponent was The Illinois Christian Home Educators, a collection of parents who homeschool their children. I mean, why are they concerning themselves over what’s being taught in schools? Isn’t the whole point of homeschooling that you have full control over your child’s curriculum? Doesn’t homeschool render challenging and banning unnecessary?
Strega Nona: The book is seen as being as insidious as Harry Potter on the magic front. Look at that face. The face of corruption.
Sylvester And The Magic Pebble : This one is GREAT. The book was banned because the police characters are portrayed as pigs. That’s anti-cop! Ban it!
And Tango Makes Three: You know this story, right? Parks And Recreation did a while episode about it. Based on a true (TRUE) story of two male penguins in the New York Central Park Zoo who raised a baby penguin together. This charming picture book was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 with the group Focus on the Family Action calling it “very misleading…a very disingenuous, inaccurate way to promote a political agenda to little kids.” Based on a true story, folks. You can’t argue with biology.
Where The Wild Things Are: Though I’m not surprised to see that this book has been banned for “glorifying” Max’s tantrums and wild rumpus-ing, I was surprised to see that an author I love and admire, Bruno Bettelheim, famously denounced the book when it was released. Bettelheim is well-respected for his psychoanalytical take on fairy tales and said the following: “What’s wrong with the book is that the author was obviously captivated by an adult psychological understanding of how to deal with destructive fantasies in the child. What he failed to understand is the incredible fear it evokes in the child to be sent to bed without supper, and this by the first and foremost giver of food and security—his mother.” Basically, Bettelheim thought the book was too dark and upsetting. What on earth would he have made of Spike Jonze’s movie?
Winnie The Pooh: Oh this is the offensive talking animals and, horror of horrors, pig thing again. In a strange, non book-related bit of draconian policy, a 6th grader in Napa California was sent to a suspension program called Students With Attitude Problems because she wore a pair of Tigger socks to school which was against the dress code. Ah, that’s the terrible thing about Tiggers.
A Wrinkle In Time: First of all, Madeline L’Engle’s classic was rejected by 26 publishers because, according to the author, they disliked the notion of a female protagonist in a sci-fi fantasy novel. But the reason A Wrinkle In Time has been banned? The old “magic is bad, Jesus is good” argument courtesy of the Jerry Falwell ministries. Can’t they both be good, people?
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz: Ah, and last on our list we have Dorothy, Glinda and That Wicked Old Witch. Baum’s book has been banned all over the place but, famously, in 1986 a group of Tennessee families filed a lawsuit claiming that the presence of good witches (that would be Glinda) in the book imply that human attributes are “individually developed rather than God given” and that all witches are bad so the presence of a good witch is “theologically impossible.” I literally don’t even understand that argument and I would advise those particular families to seek out, oh, you know, some brains and a little heart.