WHY BOOKS ARE BANNED
Often, those books that come under the most fire are the ones that shine a light on the issues we are – are ought to be — talking about as a society.
Books are commonly banned for “adult content,” “language,” or simply not being “age appropriate.” Those are often legitimate concerns. But sometimes these words are just a cover for issues that are difficult or make us feel uncomfortable.
Among the 67 books challenged this year, we asked schools to tell us why parents objected to a title. Here’s the most popular reasons books were challenged:
- Politically/socially/racially offensive
- Offensive to religious beliefs
- Drugs and alcohol
- Violence and horror
- Profanity/poor language
- Sex or nudity
Often, a book was challenged for multiple reasons. Young Adult – a genre which deals frankly with teenagers’ attempts to understand or explore sex, homosexuality, drugs, gangs, suicide, along with the fantasy-horror worlds of vampires, dark angels and zombies – remains the most challenged genre.
In North East ISD’s Cibolo Green Elementary, Merriam-Webster’s Visual Dictionary was challenged for “sexual content or nudity” and removed from general circulation. Last year, Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen was challenged for a cartoon drawing showing the little boy tumbling in a dream sequence with no diaper on. In another instance, a parent objected to a picture showing a girl with her “back exposed” and “bra unhooked.”
A video entitled “Visit into the Daily Lives of Muslim Teenagers” prompted Carroll
ISD’s Eubanks Intermediate School to provide an alternate book choice for students this year because some found it “offensive.” And in 2010, any book seen about sorcery, paganism and witchcraft came under fire. These complaints call into question the line between deeply personal beliefs and the need to develop a curriculum relevant to children from many different backgrounds.
While some book challengers consistently take issue with wizard, ghost, and goblin books, believing they represent the occult, others take these tales for completely fictional fantastical worlds where vampires roam the night, smart kids have special powers, and children are encouraged to use their imaginations. Pop culture fads such as literary fiction, movies and television shows about vampires have led to numbers of book challenges in recent years.
To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye are two classics that have repeatedly made this list. In 2010, In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien, whose real life-inspired stories on Vietnam earned him a Pulitzer, was challenged for being “politically, racially, socially offensive.” So was Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, and Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser. None of these books, thankfully, were removed. Ellen Hopkins’s series Burned and Cranked take on a dysfunctional family haunted by an abusive, alcoholic father; these were also challenged at several schools this year for being “offensive.”
Last year, roughly half of challenges led to a restriction – whether based on grade, age, or the need to get a parent’s permission before checking a book out. Sometimes, this desire to “protect” students from the harsh realities of the outside world seem well-intended but misguided, even silly.
A few examples?
*Hunt Elementary in Cuero ISD, removed Time-Life Magazine from its library in 2010.
*In Our Mothers’ House, a book about a multi-racial family headed by lesbian parents, was banned at Glen Rose Intermediate – an attempt to wall off adolescent children from anything that deviates from “traditional” family values.
*In Leander last year, the entire Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar was nearly banned for inappropriate language, drugs, and sexual content. The books were challenged not in a middle or elementary school as expected, but at Vandegrift High School.
At a middle school in Round Rock, a parent wanted a book banned but refused to read it in order to discuss it with school administrators. This has no doubt happened in other schools.
As always, the question is: Should the tastes or beliefs of a few rule what the rest of us and our children may read? Or should children’s parents have the last word on what their students read?