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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week: Spotlight on: THE CHILDREN!!! (or, "what's going on, Wisconsin?")

"But the children! Think of the children!"

Can't you just hear book-banning crazies yelling that over the tops of their signs and their burning torches?

Some of the most frequently banned and challenged books are childrens books, the books that many of us read, loved and can't wait to read with our own kids.
The idea of banning kids books is so foreign to me, because by and large, something is not going to be published for kids if it's truly inappropriate. Even it it looks like a kids book and acts like a kids book, it will be published as adult, if at all (take the classic hilarious book of no-nos, Shes Silverstein's Uncle Shleby's ABZ: A Primer for Adults Only).
But every year, parents, teachers and librarians across the country find fault with some kids' books and feel the need to challenge them, ban them or remove them from circulation. Often, the reasons are surprisingly (or not) ridiculous.
For example:

Shel Silverstein

Two of Silverstein's other books, A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends have both been banned and challenged.
A Light in the Attic was one of the most banned books of the 90s, for reasons such as, the book "encourages children to break dishes so they won't have to dry them"(Cunningham Elementary School in Beloit, Wis., 1985); it contrains "suggestive illustrations" (Minot, N.D. public schools); and it "glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient" (Big Bend Elementary School, Mukwonago, Wis., 1986). Really? Because I don't so much remember all that.
Where the Sidewalk Ends was challenged in Pennsylvania because of the poem "Dreadful," which talks about how "someone ate the baby" (Central Columbia SD, Bloomburg, Pa., 1986) and it apparently "suggests drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for legitimate authority, [and] rebellion against parents" (West Allis-West Milwaukee, Wis. school libraries, 1993).


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Roald Dahl classic we all know and love, was placed in a locked reference collection at the Boulder, Colorado, Public Library in 1988 because it "espoused a poor philosophy of life." It was later removed, but really, Boulder? James and the Giant Peach, one of my favorite books as a kid, is "not appropriate reading material for children" (Deep Creek E.S., Charlotte Harbor, Fl., 1991), perhaps because it contains the "ass" and "promotes the use of drugs )tobacco, snuff) and whiskey" (Pederson E.S., Altoona, Wis. 1991, and Morton E.S., Brooksville, Fl., 1992). And of course, that capital od childrens books sins, is "contains crude language and encourages children to disobey their parents" (Stafford County, Va. schools, 1995).


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, along with the Chronicles of Narnia series in general takes a lot of flack. For some, it's too Christian, but for Christians... well, some seem to miss the (obvious) Christian allegory, and denounce it for its "graphic violence, mysticism, and gore" (Howard County, Md. school system, 1990).

DR. SEUSS Yep, that Dr. Seuss. My all-time favorite book by the beloved Doctor, The Lorax was challenged by the Laytonville, California Unified School District in 1989 because it "criminalizes the foresting industry." Yep.


The Little House books, especially Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie are challenged fairly frequently. Little House in the Big Woods was removed from third-grade classrooms in Lincoln Unified School District in Stockton, Ca., in 1996, and from the libraries of the same community after complaints that the book "promotes racial epithets and is fueling the fire of racism." Little House on the Prairie was challenged for "being offensive to Indians" (Lafourche Parish, Thibodoux, La., 1993, and Sturgis, SD). Rather than being, you know, a memoir where things are represented as they were, not sugar-coated for the ultra-PC 90s.

and lastly:

Where's Waldo by Martin Hanford was challenged in the Saginaw, Mi. Public Library System, reason unknown (oh, Michigan, my beloved state, I did not want to include you in this list of ridiculousness, but this is not the only time you've banned. Shame.). It was removed from circulation in the Springs Public School System in East Hampton, NY in 1993 because of a drawing of a woman on a beach wearing a bikini with no top. (which I believe you can only tell from the back)

So there's your list of absurdity for the day. I think we can all ask ourselves one question. What's going on Wisconsin? Most of these are from you.

As a parting gift to you:
Here is the ALA list of Most Frequently Banned and Challenged books of the 90s, many of them childrens books:
  1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
  2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
  8. Forever by Judy Blume
  9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
  16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
  17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  19. Sex by Madonna
  20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
  21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
  24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
  27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
  29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
  30. The Goats by Brock Cole
  31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
  32. Blubber by Judy Blume
  33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
  34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
  35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
  36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
  37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
  41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
  45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
  46. Deenie by Judy Blume
  47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
  49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
  50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
  51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
  54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
  55. Cujo by Stephen King
  56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
  58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
  60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
  62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
  64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
  65. Fade by Robert Cormier
  66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
  67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
  69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  71. Native Son by Richard Wright
  72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
  73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
  74. Jack by A.M. Homes
  75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
  76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
  77. Carrie by Stephen King
  78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
  79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
  80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
  81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
  82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
  83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
  87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
  88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
  89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
  90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
  91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
  93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
  94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
  95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
  97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
  98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
  100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier


  1. A Light in the Attic "glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient"? I have to say, I don't remember all that either.

    But now I definitely want to read it! (Funny how trying to ban books has that effect...)

  2. Hmm, I grew up in Wisconsin and read many of the books on the list. My kids went to parochial school in Wisconsin and read some of the books on the list - so I'm wondering where in Wisconsin are these books banned?

  3. Wow, that's crazy. I want to look up to see what's been banned in my state!

  4. Gofita, here's a link to a map that shows bannings in the US from 2007-2009. Plus, you can always google your state and censorship/book banning/challenging, etc. I was surprised by how much there was in Michigan, but also surprised by how many progressive anti-censorship things I found for Mi.

  5. The Earth's Children series! I LOVED these as a teenager and got them from my school library, with encouraging nods and plaudits from our sweet librarians as I borrowed them. Wall-to-wall sex in parts. They were rather liberal-minded ladies!

  6. Misty, this is an awesome post.

    I agree, if a book is inappropriate it just won't be published. Period!

  7. I find it kind of weird that I didn't even really know about book banning when I was growing up...even in high school. I guess I should be thankful that I had amazing teachers that told me to read (& most of the books are on that list) and most of all for having great parents that never ever discouraged my reading. They would just tell me to rest my eyes when they turned red from all the reading.

  8. Last night while I was working we noticed that a Winnie the Pooh book was banned. Can't figure that one out!

  9. Rhiannon, that's hilarious. Yeah,my mom bought me VC Andrews books as a kid, and thank god she didn't know what went on in them...

    Jenn-ay: good, that's the way it should be.

    Rachel: this made me curious so I looked it up. The only thing I could find was that some muslim countries have banned Pooh because of Piglet, for being a pig and all...

  10. hi, just visiting from La Coccinelle's site where I too received an award - always nice as it's another way of finding out about other bloggers.

    I've enjoyed looking at your site and thought some of your observations on banned books were interesting. It's suprising just how many banned books I've actually read. Quite how or why most of them are on there I don't know.

  11. Thanks for stopping by, Petty Witter!
    The reasons for banning books are normally pretty bizarre or just lame, as I showed up ^there^. Schools, libraries and very rarely communities ban and challenge books (at least here in the US; abroad, whole gov't's do, and the consequences can be pretty extreme).
    Congrats on the award!


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