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Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week starts Saturday, an occasion many public libraries use to help patrons understand intellectual freedom issues and why their tax dollars purchase books they may find personally offensive.

As a former advocate for our state library association and library trustee, I have tracked the American Library Association's 10 most challenged books of the year since 2000.

Some observations: The majority of books challenged are aimed at "young adults"--older teens in library parlance. Some are on high school reading lists, which perhaps explains the "unsuited to age" challenge.

Occasionally, an adult classic finds its way onto the challenged books list: Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, and "Beloved" by Toni Morrison.

Books are most often challenged for offensive language or sexual content (often both). An increasing number of books are being singled out for homosexual content, including four on the list released this year.

Challenges for violence seem to be dwindling. Back in 2001 seven books were cited for violence. This year, only two, though "Beloved" is one of the most violent books I have ever read. "The Bluest Eye," also by Morrison, has been challenged for violence in the past, but not this year.

Satanism and the occult challenges are also declining as grounds for challenges. Just one this year, Alvin Schwartz's "Scary Stories." The "Harry Potter" series was usually challenged on the grounds of magical themes. It topped the list four years running, but fell off the list entirely in 2004.

Racism and insensitivity are also decreasing reasons for book challenges.

The perennial favorite (or un-favorite in this case) book is Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate Wars," which has been on the list since 2000, though this year it's in 10th place.

Two other frequently cited books are the "Alice" series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (sexual content and offensive language) and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky.

"Captain Underpants" also makes frequent appearances on the lists, but not this year.

I encourage people to read through this year's list and those from previous years (search "most challenged books" plus the year on the ala.org site). You'll find those you love (for me it's "Huck Finn," "The Giver," "Of Mice and Men," and "Harry Potter") and hate ("Catcher in the Rye" and "Captain Underpants").

Compare your loves and hates with your neighbors, friends, co-workers and spouse. I guarantee arguments! It's a good lesson in why libraries try to offer a wide variety of books and prevent citizens, however well-intentioned, from banning them from the shelves. It's a good reminder that guiding our children's taste and morals is our job, not the library's.

The ten most challenged books in 2006 were:

  1. "And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group
  2. "Gossip Girls" series by Cecily Von Ziegesar for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group, and offensive language
  3. "Alice" series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for sexual content and offensive language
  4. "The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things" by Carolyn Mackler for sexual content, anti-family, offensive language, and unsuited to age group
  5. "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison for sexual content, offensive language, and unsuited to age group
  6. "Scary Stories" series by Alvin Schwartz for occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence, and insensitivity
  7. "Athletic Shorts" by Chris Crutcher for homosexuality and offensive language
  8. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky for homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, and unsuited to age group
  9. "Beloved" by Toni Morrison for offensive language, sexual content, and unsuited to age group
  10. "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier for sexual content, offensive language, and violence

Comments

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I wish I would have seen this list at the beginning of the summer. My reading time might have been spent in a much more interesting fashion.

As I read through this list, another aspect (other than books) of my life came to mind. It struck me that if such things as "sexual content (of the heterosexual type), offensive language, violence, and unsuited to age group" were considered as reasons for "banning," with memories of my U.S. Navy experience in mind, people should be discouraged from joining the military! (I served in the 1970s, before the advent of "don't ask, don't tell" but clearly homosexuality was considered so verboten it was not even mentioned.)I remember in particular the day that I spoke with my boss, a LTJG (Lieutenant Junior Grade), about a riot that had broken out the night before at the Enlisted Men's Club when sailors fought over a bunch of young women present. He explained that the women, known as "Anchorettes," were prostitutes brought on base every weekend by the Navy. A gray Navy bus was sent downtown Long Beach, California to gather them up for the sailor's "use." He told me that, once things settled down, he talked to the Chief Petty Officer also on duty with him that night: "Hey Chief, here at the EM Club, these girls are called Anchorettes; at the Officers Club, we call them "Marinettes." What do you call them at the CPO Club?" He answered with a snort, "Hookers."Parents, watch what your children read, and when they consider joining the armed forces!

Michael., not to derail my own thread, but my husband was also in the Navy.Gambling on ship was also supposed to be illegal on ship. One day the CPO was walking through the dormitory area and some were playing poker. The CPO barely glanced at the table, just walked by saying, "Keep the money off the table, ladies."

To deny that homosexuality is and has been quite prevalent in the military is to deny the same about denizens of the Vatican. I spent 8 years in the Air Force and have visited the Vatican 4 times in 20 years. The only difference is the kind of drag involved.

Point of interest: Vox Nova cites a Catholic's efforts to continue the Harry Potter bashing.http://vox-nova.com/2007/09/30/the-vatican-and-harry-potter/