Banned Books Week
by Bob Schwartz
Students lose access to books amid ‘state-sponsored purging of ideas’
Measures across the country aim to restrict what children can read.
By Hannah Natanson and Lori Rozsa
In one Virginia school district this fall, parents will receive an email notification every time their child checks out a book. In a Florida school system, teachers are purging their classrooms of texts that mention racism, sexism, gender identity or oppression. And a Pennsylvania school district is convening a panel of adults to sign off on every title that school librarians propose buying.
The start of the 2022-2023 school year will usher in a new era of education in some parts of America — one in which school librarians have less freedom to choose books and schoolchildren less ability to read books they find intriguing, experts say.
In the past two years, six states have passed laws that mandate parental involvement in reviewing books, making it easier for parents to remove books or restrict the texts available at school, according to a tally kept by nonprofit EveryLibrary. Five states are considering similar legislation. Typical of these is an Arizona bill, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in April, that requires districts to send parents who ask lists of the books their children check out, as well as to publish the titles of all library materials bought after Jan. 1. Policies are proliferating at the district level, too: One Nebraska system will require that parents sign permission slips for library books. A Texas system will divide its library into “juvenile,” “young adult” and “adult” sections, with parents choosing the “level” their child can access.
This is Banned Books Week.
Books being banned and challenged in American schools and libraries is nothing new. But with the unmistakable rise of regressive politics and culture, it has had renewed momentum.
With the availability of other media, books may not seem to have the power they once had to inform and inspire, to entertain and expand consciousness. They still have that power, which is exactly why those who are worried—panicked—about too much information, too much of the wrong kind of inspiration, or too much consciousness expansion, want tighter control of what people read.
If you wonder what sort of books are being banned or challenged, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has compiled a list of the most banned and challenged books from 2010-2019.
Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books 2010-2019
American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Looking for Alaska by John Green
George by Alex Gino
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
Internet Girls (series) by Lauren Myracle
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss
Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
Alice McKinley (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
It’s a Book by Lane Smith
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer
Bad Kitty (series) by Nick Bruel
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Goosebumps (series) by R.L. Stine
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco
Lush by Natasha Friend
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The Holy Bible
This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily von Ziegesar
House of Night (series) by P.C. Cast
My Mom’s Having A Baby by Dori Hillestad Butler
Neonomicon by Alan Moore
The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle
Dreaming In Cuban by Cristina Garcia
Fade by Lisa McMann
The Family Book by Todd Parr
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach
Habibi by Craig Thompson
House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
Stuck in the Middle by Ariel Schrag
The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal
1984 by George Orwell
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
Awakening by Kate Chopin
Burned by Ellen Hopkins
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Glass by Ellen Hopkins
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesle´a Newman
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack
Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology by Amy Sonnie
Skippyjon Jones (series) by Judith Schachner
So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
The Color of Earth (series) by Tong-hwa Kim
The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
The Walking Dead (series) by Robert Kirkman
Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S Brannen
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Just from some of the titles, you can sense why some of the books would cause concerns for parents who deem them controversial or dangerous. Of course, a book picturing the complicated social life of twenty-first century teenage girls is going to be read by twenty-first century teenage girls, whether it’s in school or library or not.
There are, however, books truly amazing to still be on this list. Some have been demonized and banned for decades, almost as a tradition of cultural opposition. 1984, for example, suggests the possibility of a totalitarian state in a Western democracy. Why would you want to expose young Americans—any Americans—to such a vile fantasy (possibility)?
Astonishing is the banning of a book by the iconic and hugely popular children’s author Eric Carle (Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpillar). Draw Me a Star contains an illustration of a naked man and woman, suggestive of Adam and Eve (pre-apple). Apparently, even the Bible is not endorsement enough to allow children, or even adults, to see genitals.
Speaking of the Bible, you will see that it too is on the list of frequently banned and challenged books. As for the dangers it poses, other than naked people, you can look it up.
There are going to be books that, in the case of children, some legitimately believe feature things that may be inappropriate for the young. But mostly, the banning and challenging involve an attempt to illegitimately control the creative conversation and impose values—illegitimate because, by constitution and in theory, the American experiment involves open conversation about a variety of values.
And now, a personal incident that is roughly related.
It is junior year in high school. It is English class. It is time for an oral book report. the book I chose is J.D.TSalinger’s Catcher in the Rye, which is on the list above, and has been regularly banned for over seventy years since its publication in 1951.
The plan for my report was to read aloud a few quotes from the book. I wasn’t sure about a particular quote, but the girl sitting next to me, very pretty and very voluptuous (by high school or any standards) urged me to do it.
I stood up, and this is the quote from the book that caused the commotion:
“I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another “Fuck you” on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn’t come off. It’s hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “Fuck you” signs in the world. It’s impossible.”
The reason for the bannings of Catcher, even now, is the plethora of “fuck yous” in this great book. My case was no exception. Word got around the school about my report, and I was called to the office of the Vice Principal. I was told I had to be punished, and I was.
Salinger/Holden Caulfield was right. We know that those words and the hundreds of other instances of transgression can’t possibly be rubbed out, and shouldn’t be, especially among creators and their readers/viewers/listeners. The fact is that in this century “fuck you” is everywhere, in movies, on TV and in songs, not to mention where it has always been—in our real lives.
© 2022 Bob Schwartz