February 2007

Chris Zammarelli

banned bookslut

"These Wonderful Books That Come Highly Recommended"

The number of challenges to books in libraries fell to 405 in 2005, according to the American Library Association. This was the lowest number of challenges since the ALA began tracking them in the early '80s. The organization estimates that there are four to five unreported challenges for every reported one. The statistics for 2006 will not be released until September, during Banned Books Week. However, there are always plenty of stories in the press on this subject. The following is a small sampling of titles that faced opposition in the past year.

The Well by Mildred Taylor

The Well was removed from an elementary school reading list for Black History Month in Absecon, NJ because of a racial epithet used in the book. Fourth grade teacher Terry Maher said, "The word is not taught in the book, the word is hated in the book," adding, "We would be sorry to lose it." However, Robert Preston said, "If children hear it, and are allowed to read it in class, it legitimizes it."


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The mother of a high school freshman in Annapolis, MD asked the Anne Arundel County Citizen Advisory Committee to request Angelou's book be banned from Broadneck High School because of its mature themes. "They're just learning, they're vulnerable, they're young," she said. "And to throw out at them the most violent act of human nature is just more than I think they can handle." Committee chair Sam Georgiou said that there was "no support" for pursuing a ban, so the committee asked the school to make sure parents were better informed as to the types of materials their children are assigned beyond the disclaimer they already receive.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Judson School District Board in San Antonio, TX overturned a ban of The Handmaid's Tale by the superintendent. Ed Lyman ordered the book taken out of the advanced placement English curriculum when a parent complained it contained sexual and anti-Christian content. A committee comprised of teachers, students, and a parent had recommended the book remain in the class, but Lyman said he felt it did not fit in with the standards of the community. Said high school senior Craig Gagne, "If we do ban The Handmaid's Tale because of sexual content, then why not ban Huckleberry Finn for racism? Why not ban The Crucible for witchcraft? Why not ban The Things They Carried for violence, and why not ban the Bible and argue separation of church and state?"

Vamos a Cuba by Alta Schreier

Cuban exiles requested Miami-Dade School Board ban this children's book because it portrayed an unrealistic portrait of life in Cuba. School board member Frank Balanos had the book pulled from classroom shelves, although the book stayed in the library. The ACLU later sued the school board over the book's removal. A judge ordered copies of the book returned to schools until the lawsuit was settled.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Laura Mallory spent much of 2006 trying to get Harry Potter banned from Gwinnett (GA) County Public Schools because of its theme of witchcraft. As Leila Roy said recently in her blog Bookshelves of Doom, "The school wouldn't ban the Harry Potter books, so she went to the school board. They wouldn't ban them, so she went to the State Board of Education. They wouldn't ban them, so now she's bringing it to Gwinnett County Superior Court. (I may have missed a step there. Did she bring it to the County Board of Education before the State Board?) At what point will she realize that it just isn't going to happen?"

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Parents of students at Apalachee High School had an edition of Lord of the Flies removed from the Barrow County, GA school because it contained an essay by E.L. Epstein that commented on the rape-like nature of the pig-slaying scene. "It's not the curriculum itself, it's the classroom discussion," parent Jeff Smith said. "To make sure this doesn't happen again, we think that commentary should be pulled."

Beloved by Toni Morrison and eight other titles

The Township High School District 214 board in Arlington Heights, IL voted to keep nine challenged books on the district schools' reading list. Board member Leslie Pinney called for such titles as Toni Morrison's Beloved and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five to be banned because of their obscene content. During the board meeting, which was attended by 500 people, sophomore Scott Leipprandt said, "By banning it, it doesn't give us the opportunity to talk about it before we encounter it in real life."

Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love by Maryrose Wood and nine other titles

The Hernando County (FL) County School Board removed 10 titles from the library's book order, including Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love by Maryrose Wood and The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. School board member Sandra Nicholson requested the titles removed because they contained offensive language. "We have teachers who complain constantly about the language students use. And then we tell them to read these books, these wonderful books that come highly recommended. What kind of message are we sending to these students?"

The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks

Fleet Belle of the Mobile County (AL) school board requested The Learning Tree be removed from LeFlore High School summer reading list because of its offensive language and sexual content. He said, "The language is inappropriate and unacceptable. This book should not have ever been on the reading list for our fine children in the Mobile County Public School System."

The Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano

The Nampa (ID) Public Library Board voted to retain The Joy of Gay Sex, but ordered the book and 60 other books about sex be placed on the top shelves on the library. Bruce Skaug, who challenged the books, said he'd prefer his nine-year-old smoke than read The Joy of Gay Sex.

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

Some people in Shiloh, IL and Charlotte, NC objected to this children's book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin because, well, it's about two male penguins raising a baby penguin. It's based on the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? by Peter Hedges

The superintendent of Carroll (IA) Schools pulled Peter Hedges's What's Eating Gilbert Grape? from a class about books made into movies because a parent complained about an oral sex scene in the book. The school board eventually voted to return the title to the classroom, although students now need a permission slip from their parents in order to read it.

If you'd like to track what titles are challenged in 2007, there are a number of places you can look. (Beyond the Banned Bookslut column, of course.) ALA's American Libraries features a column about challenges in each monthly issue, with updates on its website. The aforementioned Bookshelves of Doom by Leila Roy and the First Amendment Center both do excellent jobs of following news on the latest challenges. Lastly, searching sites such as Google News or Yahoo! News for terms like "book ban" or "book challenge" or "Harry Potter" will usually pull up some interesting results.