“Something will be offensive to someone in every book, so you’ve got to fight it.” – Judy Blume

Judy Blume would know — she has 5 of the top 100 most challenged books from 1990-1999 — but when you peruse the lists of the most frequently challenged books, it is hard not to agree.  Below, I’ve highlighted the three challenged books that surprised me the most.

strega nonaStrega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaola’s classic picture book is often cited as one of the best picture books of all time — it was #34 on SLJ’s Top 100 Picture Books — so it might come as a surprise that it has been challenged.  The story of a magical old woman (“grandma witch”) who tells her assistant — Big Anthony — not to touch her magical pot of pasta.  Big Anthony ignores her and Strega Nona must save the day before the town is overrun in pasta.
Why was it challenged or banned? Witchcraft, of course.

wheres waldoWhere’s Waldo by Martin Hanford
I loved Where’s Waldo books as a kid.  My mom would bring a stack of them with us on long car rides and they would entertain my brother and me for hours.  Waldo books are a challenge of concentration and a fantastic way to get kids to pick up on pattern and color.  I looked at these books for hours and before reading about why the book was challenged and banned, I would have never guessed.
Why was it challenged or banned? Apparently in searching for Waldo, some people have been shocked to find topless sunbathers, gay couples, and people holding up the rocker hand sign (or as they called it “Hail Satan”).

charlotte's webCharlotte’s Web by E.B. White
I wept the first time I read this book.  This beautiful story about the friendship between Wilbur, a pig, and Charlotte, a barn spider, is a classic.  It is heartbreaking in the way many of the best children’s books are, and is beloved around the world.  When I think of stories to share with children, I’ve always thought that this is a safe (albeit sad)  book to recommend.  Apparently, I was wrong.
Why was it challenged or banned? It was banned in 2006 when a group of parents were upset that it included talking animals and inappropriate subject matter (death).

The last time I checked, the bleak dystopian future was still firmly entrenched as the film fad genre over yesterday’s vampires and zombies. I’m looking at you, Divergent and Hunger Games.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest none of these trilogies would be possible without the granddaddy of them all, George Orwell’s 1984. Written in 1948, this piece is required reading for high school seniors for the pop culture references alone, a la Big Brother and thought crime. You won’t be able to find your way out of an Orwellian abyss without it.

Pepper in references to this work and your modern-day conspiracy theory is half-written! Technological and poltical relevance almost 70 years later is some staying power, if not clairvoyance on the part of Orwell, who passed away in 1950.

1984 was banned in the former U.S.S.R., and challenged in 1981 in Florida on the grounds of being “pro-communist”, no doubt by the irony-impaired.

Banned Books Week

 

What are Banned Books? Books that have been removed from schools or libraries.

Why are books banned? The top three reasons for banned books are as follows:

1. The material was considered to be “sexually explicit.”

2. The material contained “offensive language.”

3. The material was “unsuited for any age group.”

Why do we have Banned Books Week? Founded in 1982 and celebrated annually during the last week in September, it is an awareness campaign for the Freedom to Read.

How can you participate in Banned Books Week?

Many local libraries will be participating in Banned Books Week by either holding programs or creating displays. The Bettendorf Public Library will be hosting Banned Song Fest on Monday, September 28 at 6:30 pm. Local musicians will preform banned songs and music styles in honor of Banned Books Week. At the Rock Island Public Library local librarians and writers will read from banned books on Tuesday, September 29 at 6:00 pm. The Davenport Public Library will have displays at each location where you can learn about and check out a variety of banned books.

Banned Books

The top ten challenged books of 2014

The 100 most banned/challenged books from 2000-2009

 

the absolutely true diary The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is currently ranked number 1 for the most challenged books of 2014 according to The American Library Association. While this book is considered YA fiction, it is based on the real life events of Native American Author Sherman Alexie. I read this book while attending graduate school as part of a multicultural literature course.  The book is about Arnold, an incredibly smart Native American boy living on a reservation. He is given the opportunity to attend an all white school outside of the reservation. This book highlights not only some of the struggles of Native Americans living on reservations, but dives deep into what it took for this character to break away from his life on the reservation. When I finished reading the book I immediately researched the author. It was shocking to read that this work is semi-autobiographical, but still all the more important that this book remain on shelves. Anyone should have the opportunity to read this book. Why is the book challenged/banned? The book contains themes and elements of alcohol abuse, sex, violence, bullying, and racial issues.
go ask aliceGo Ask Alice was published in 1971 and for many years was thought to be the anonymous diary of a troubled teenager that became addicted to drugs. It was later revealed to have been written by Beatrice Sparks, a psychologist, only partially based on one of her patient’s diaries. Since this revelation, the book is considered a work of fiction. I read this books several years ago as I was making my way through a list of top 100 books that everyone should read. While the book does tend to be over the top in certain circumstances, it does include so much of the feelings and thoughts experienced by young women. Why is this book challenged/banned? Despite being published over 40 years ago, the book has never been out of print and still remains high up in the list of challenged/banned books. The book contains drug use, sex, and offensive language.

 

 

Here at the Davenport Public Library, we are celebrating our freedom to read during Banned Books Week by reading frequently challenged and banned books.  From September 22nd until the 28th, we encourage you to stop by one of the DPL locations and pick up one of the books that have been banned or challenged at libraries across the country.  We will have many of the books on display, and as always, stop by the reference desk and we’ll help you find the book you need.  You might be surprised to find one of your favorites on the list.

The 10 most frequently challenged books of 2012:

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Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Scary Stories Series by Alvin Schwartz, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, Beloved by Toni Morrison

This classic children’s novel has been weathering the storm of censorship and controversy for 4 decades now. Jean Craighead George won the 1973 Newbery Medal for her novel, Julie of the Wolves, which tells the story of a Yupik Eskimo girl called Miyax (Julie to her pen pal in San Francisco) who survives alone on the Arctic tundra by communicating with a wolf pack. The outside world has wrought changes on Julie’s culture, and when she is forced to choose between an arranged marriage and a harsh, desperate flight across the wild tundra, she runs away. She eventually learns the language of the wolves and becomes a member of the pack, a process that’s terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure.

Julie’s journey of survival and self discovery has resonated with young and old readers since its publication in the seventies, despite being challenged for including violence and being “unsuited to age group.” To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.

In honor of Banned Books Week, which lasts until October sixth, I’m revisiting my favorite banned book: Beloved by Toni Morrison. I first read this masterpiece in a high school English course; it’s dense and lyrical and moving. The story is based on a real-life tragedy: an escaped slave woman who murdered her own children to stop her owner from recapturing them. That woman is Sethe, and her life story is one of mingled despair and hope, tragedy and good luck. The narrative is touched by the supernatural: the spirit of Sethe’s murdered baby, whose headstone only reads Beloved, has haunted her house ever since her death. 20 years later, when a pretty 20 year old girl turns up on Sethe’s front step knowing things only a family member could know, it’s unclear what her intentions and her identity really are.

Sethe’s story is magical and moving. It’s been banned or challenged for containing offensive language, explicit sexuality, and being “unsuited to age group,” according to the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged books. When I read this novel as a teenager, I wasn’t scarred, offended, or damaged: Morrison’s book was, instead, eye-opening and moving. It made me more interested in literature and in history, and it gave my class fodder for discussions that improved our understanding of reading and the way it impacts real life. I hope you’ll check it out: you won’t be disappointed.

To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.

Banned Books Week is an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association; it’s purpose is to celebrate the freedom to read. At the Davenport Public Library, we’ve got displays up at our three locations showing some of the many books that have been challenged, banned or restricted over the years.  You might be surprised to find some of your favorite titles on the list!  Here are a few of my favorites that someone, at sometime, deemed inappropriate:

Come check out our display and accompanying brochure with titles of even more banned books.  Maybe this would be the perfect time to read one!