It’s Banned Books Week, an annual that, according to the American Library Association (ALA), celebrates “the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment”. It aims to highlight the dangers of censorship and attempts to draw attention to any calls to ban books within the USA.
What do we mean by banning a book? The ALA categorizes it as the following:
A ban placed on a book completely removes it from the shelves of the bookstore/district library/school library where the challenge was made and in some rare occasions this can have state wide impact.
A challenge in this instance refers to not one complaint, or even just a few, but a formal protest made by a group against a specific title filed with the library or store.
No book has had a federal ban placed on it for decades now (I believe the last book to be banned in America was Fanny Hill which was banned on its release in 1821, rereleased under the name of John Cleland’s Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure and banned once again for obscenity in 1963, only for that ban to be overthrown by the Supreme Court in 1966), but challenges on certain titles persist throughout America in individual towns and school districts year after year.
So Which Books Face Calls for a Ban or Restrictions?
As you might imagine, literature featuring gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) themes is often the source of controversy.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Henry Cole is often one such book that is challenged. It is the story of two male penguins who raise a chick in the Central Park Zoo.
The book, aimed at children, is based on true events and, whilst not featuring any explicit affirmations of sexuality, it is often labeled as “indoctrination” and accused of “promoting a homosexual agenda”. It is the ALA’s most challenged book of 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Baby Be Bop by Francesca Lia Block was one of fifty-five books that were challenged by parents in Fayetteville, Arkansas. They formed a group called the Parents Protecting the Minds of Children who wanted the book removed from shelves for what they called its “graphic language” and for “promoting a homosexual agenda”.
Baby Be Bop was also challenged in Wisconsin by group called the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries who wanted all LGBT interest books moved to the adult section, regardless of the nature of the book, claiming that such material filed anywhere else in the library could be harmful, and that restricting access to the books was necessary “to protect children from accessing them without their parents’ knowledge and supervision”.
Groups don’t ask for books to be banned just for the sake of children either. The Christian Civil Liberties Union (CCLU) filed a legal suit against West Bend earlier this year claiming that elderly library goers were “damaged mentally and emotionally” by Baby Be Bop’s presence. They sort financial damages and the right to hold a public book burning.
Speaking on the lawsuit a spokesperson for the CCLU said, “We don’t want it put in a section for adults. We’re saying it’s inappropriate to have it in the library, and we want it out or destroyed”.
For a list of LGBT themed books that are frequently protested against or have received local bans, please click here.
It’s not just LGBT themed books that are targeted. Often books that are considered classics by most are also challenged. The organization Focus on the Family and others like it have, in the past, wanted to restrict access to books they deem ” too liberal”, “satanic” (concern was raised that The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter promoted sorcery) and books that do not “represent traditional values”. The traditional values they stand for include campaigning against abortion, and the perceived homosexual agenda.
“Every year, the ALA and other liberal groups use this trumped-up event to intimidate and basically silence concerned parents… the truth is, parents have every right and responsibility to object to their kids receiving sexually explicit and pro-gay literature without their permission, especially in a school setting.” – Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family.
So what kind of books are often objected against? Here’s just a small selection:
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
- The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison.
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
- Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.
I have to say, having read all of the books above, and having done so at a relatively young age, I was enriched, not harmed, by the material I found there. Was some of it disturbing? Yes. Did it scar me for life. No. I’d even go as far to say that books like The Color Purple and Beloved changed me for the better.
My parents never restricted what material I was allowed to read. They were of the mind that if I was old enough to understand a book, then I should be allowed to read it. Interestingly, the only book I can ever remember my parents censoring to any degree (and even then we only skipped certain pages) was the Bible.
Both my parents were very religious (my mother was a devout Christian and my father is now a lapsed Methodist) but felt that certain passages within the Bible were not suitable for children.
I wonder if “traditional values” proponents such as Focus on the Family, who have campaigned so heavily to restrict access to certain books, had also thought of applying the same measures to the Bible as well? After all, the Bible clearly mentions incest, rape, hellish views of what awaits some in the afterlife, infanticide, genocide and supernatural phenomena – all of which are reasons that groups have given for restrictions being placed on books in the past.
Personally, I am against censorship and am pro religious freedom, I just wonder how evenly the standard of “traditional values” should be applied?
What are your views on Book Banning Week and censoring books in schools and libraries?
Other Care2 Posts That Might be of Interest:
Gay as the School Day is Long: Teen Sexuality in School Time