Yesterday, the lovely Kelly explained how books get banned, who they get banned by, and why. She also explored the inherit problem with censorship: it limits freedom and promotes ignorance. You will be hearing a lot of the word promote in the following paragraphs. It’s a word that people challenging books love to bandy about. Warning: this post does not promote idiocy.
Since the logistics and purpose of Banned Books Week has already been explained, I am going to explore specific books that have been challenged in the United States (that is books that, parents/teachers/schools tried to or are trying to ban).
When I first started my research I came across so many books I loved and wanted to talk about that just would not fit into the scope of a single post, so I decided to write this list with a focus on books that I enjoyed and read in Elementary and Middle School. It’s not so much strict children’s books- there are a lot of YA books in here as well, but books I read as a child. Sadly, I did not read His Dark Materials until my senior year of High School so it is not on this list. =( If it was, however, no doubt I would discuss how religious nuts enjoy challenging and banning books for differing beliefs. Oh Catholicism, you nut.
Word of warning before continuing, for the book cover thumbnails I used all the covers I knew and loved in the 90’s. You have been warned.
I love love love this book, which is about two steadfast friends who create a magical land called Terabithia in the woods which is entered by rope swing. SPOILER ALERT: One of the main characters dies and you will cry your eyes out. It is a wonderful book which teaches the importance of imagination. However, because a character dies, and as everyone knows children can’t die, people find fault with the message of the novel. And as with any story, that features a world other than our own, the people who inhabit it must worship Satan.
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Challenged Because: Features “scenes depicting Egyptian worship rituals”.
This novel is about a group of children who love Egyptian culture and get together to pretend they’re in Egypt. Why not? Egypt is pretty damn cool. Here’s the clincher, the book was an optional part of the curriculum. As in, the student whose father challenged the book was not required to read it if her family did not deem it necessary. Yet, the father had this to say: “I’m not going to stop until it’s banned from the school district… I don’t believe any student should be subjected to anything that has to do with evil gods or black magic”. Once again, imagination = bad.
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
Challenged Because: Contains sexual content and characters who challenge authority.
This is the first example of a trend found in challenged books, the characters disobey authority. This seems to strike a lot of fear in parents who report these books. After discovering she was kidnapped from her birth family, Janie disobeys her fake parents and goes on a journey to meet her biological family. THE HORROR! How dare she want to meet the people who birthed her and think she’s long dead. Talk about disrespectful. Another “problem” is Janie’s natural discussion of possibly having sex (she ultimately doesn’t, but she talks about it). This is a book for young adults, at this point they know what sex is, they know it sometimes results in babies. And if their parents did their job they know to use protection. End of story.
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Challenged Because: Features drug use, magic, inappropriate language and promotes disobedience.
When I saw that this book had been challenged, I was shocked. Who would challenge James and the Giant Peach, the fantastical tale about a boy who pilots a peach across the world with the help of some magic crocodile tongues. Ah, there it is: MAGIC. The connective thread. Magic “promotes” kitten murder, and as you are well aware kitten murder leads to human sacrifices. Also contested is the detail that the bugs smoke and drink, like most adults. OMG, how dare normal human behavior get depicted in a children’s novel. Finally, there is the idea that the novel “promotes disobedience”, because James escapes his aunts who treat him horribly and starve him. Take that to heart kids, don’t disobey people who abuse you.
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Challenged Because: Contains death, “encourages messiness and disobedience”, and has “supernatural themes”.
If anything, Shel Silverstein’s poems are about fun while simultaneously teaching good lessons and instilling important morals. I.e. Don’t mock the blind, there is someone for everyone, learn to share, you shouldn’t eat too much pie, try not to take advantage of magical talking trees- instead, get a job, etc. However, if a character disobeys another character, it is assumed that the children reading the poem will also disobey. Yes, children are impressionable, but not all of them get cues on how to behave from books and television. That’s where parents come in.
Scary Stories Series by Alvin Schwartz
Challenged Because: Use of violence, death, and terrifying illustrations.
I’ll admit it, some stories in this book terrified me, and most of them made my mother angry when I read them out loud to her (especially ones involving worms or coffins). The tales are about death or supernatural events, and are adapted from folktales and urban legends. So the series can be scary, but it also teaches about the oral tradition and the humor employed makes death just a little less terrifying. Making death funny = congratulations! There’s something about being frightened that humanity loves, why protect your children from it?
If you still don’t want your child reading a specific book, don’t let them. That’s your right and you’re free to raise them in whatever manner you choose. It’s when you start imposing your beliefs on other people’s children that problems arise. It also doesn’t help when you have the comprehension skills of a snail. The more you know.