Happy Banned Books Week, everyone!!! Banned Books Week is that very special time of year where libraries and librarians everywhere celebrate the books that offended and shocked people, so much so that they were challenged or removed from shelves or burned in effigy. This time of year is a fun one because you can probably find a library in your area that displays and celebrates banned books, and encourages you to check them out and read them. Why just this month three books were challenged in the Chesterfield County School system in Richmond, Virginia (“Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell, “Tyrell” by Coe Booth, and “Dope Sick” by Walter Dean Myers) for being ‘pornographic’ and violent. The school district superintendent decided to keep the books on the shelves. We think that book banning is madness and oppressive, so of course we’re going to come at you with our favorite books that have caused some controversy, along with why they were considered so scandalous.
Kate’s Favorite Banned Books
Book: The “Scary Stories” Series by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Scholastic, Inc, 1981, 1984, and 1991.
Why It’s Been Banned: Violence, scary content, disturbing illustrations. It has been one of the most frequently challenged books in schools in the United States, according to the ALA, and though has been out for 25+ years it stills manages to break the top ten list every once in awhile.
Why I Love It: Look, it’s no secret that the versions with the Stephen Gammell illustrations are straight up nightmare fuel for kids. I read these books for the first time in fifth grade and they messed me up for weeks. But, that said, I loved every bit of them and managed to get my hands on a copy of the treasury before the re-release with tamer, and lamer, illustrations. These books are great because not only are they scary, they also have extensive source notes about the origins of the stories, along with information about American folklore. I still dig these books as a woman in her early thirties, and I STILL don’t like scarecrows. Thanks, Harold.
Book: “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess
Publishing Info: W.W. Norton and Company, December 1962
Why It’s Been Banned: Violence, violence, VIOLENCE. Also portrayal of authority. In 1973 a man in Utah was arrested for selling this book (all charges were dropped but he was run out of town on a rail).
Why I Love It: When I was fourteen I asked my Mom if I could see the movie version. She told me a solid ‘hell no’ but then said that if I could find her old copy of the book in the attic, it was mine. I proceeded to bring it to school (specifically detention) and read it in front of the proctor, who demanded if my parents knew I was reading this book. I still love “A Clockwork Orange” because of it’s musings on authority, the idea of choice vs coercion, and the commentary on how society deals with its criminals. The story of the violent criminal Alex has endured the test of time and many controversies, from the depictions of violence to it’s original ‘nadsat’ slang structure. It is incredibly violent and at times hard to read, but it remains a scathing critique of societal power structures.
Book: “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007
Why It’s Been Banned: Sexual contents, racial themes, profanity. In 2013 it was removed from a reading list in a town in Idaho. When a local teen took it upon herself to hand out free copies of the book at a local park, a pearl clutching parent called the police on her.
Why I Love It: “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is my favorite modern YA book because of it’s warmth, it’s humor, it’s tragedy, and it’s honesty. Sherman Alexie is one of our best authors writing today, and his personal and wonderful book about Junior Spirit is so real and so powerful that it left me on an airplane flipping between laughing and sobbing. Junior’s story addresses the shameful way that indigenous peoples are treated in this country along with the pains of growing up while feeling like an outsider no matter where you go, as Junior Spirit lives on a reservation but goes to school outside of it. This book is a very relatable book for many teens, however, as Junior also deals with crushes, friendship strife, and puberty. I love this book.
Serena’s Favorite Banned Books
Book: “The Giver” by Lois Lowry
Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin, April 1993
Why It’s Been Banned: Violence and sexuality. Jonas goes through puberty in this book and the story discusses ways that this dystopian society suppresses sexuality and sexual urges. And many of Jonas’s flashback involve war and violence. Apparently, in 1995 a Kansas woman attempted to have it banned because it “degraded the idea of motherhood.” Sigh.
Why I love It: Let it not be said that there isn’t a strong sense of irony in the books that people attempt to have banned. Like “Fahrenheit 451,” another oft-banned book, “The Giver” features a dystopian world where creative thought and, in many ways, storytelling, are banned to society. So…yeah. I read “The Giver” repeatedly throughout middle school and highschool. Not only is the society that Lowry creates terrifying, but Jonas’s sense of confusion and bewilderment while approaching the mysteries of adulthood rang very true for my teenage self. This a beautifully written novel which opens the reader’s eyes to the beauty to be found in the world, even alongside the horror, and how we can often lose sight of what is important in life if we’re too busy policing *ahem* the world around us.
Book: “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
Publishing Info: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, January 1963
Why It’s Been Banned: Fantasy elements, specifically the belief that it promotes witchcraft, crystal balls, and demons. Undermines religious beliefs and complaints regarding the inclusion of Jesus Christ alongside famous artists/philosophers/scientists/etc who fight off evil.
Why I Love It: This is a classic, young adult fantasy novel and one that I feel people are often surprised to find out is on the banned books list. Not only is it on the list, but it has been ever since being published and still routinely comes under fire, even though it is now recognized by many as a classic and has many awards to its name. I loved it as a teen myself just as a staple example of “science fantasy.” This is kind of strange term, but it perfectly illustrates the blending of fantastical elements with themes and ideas more typically found in “science-y” science fiction that is presented in this story. The complaints against it are very bizarre (does writing about magical elements somehow convince people that they might somehow be real??), especially given the resolution of the story with Meg’s love for her brother as the key to everything.
Book: “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak
Publishing Info: Harper & Row, April 1963
Why It’s Been Banned: More fantasy elements, aghast! Also, dark themes, promoting rebellion in children, and, worst of all, potential psychological damage regarding children’s fear of being sent to bed without dinner by their parents.
Why I Love It: I thought I would change things up and include a picture book on this list, not only because I truly love reading pictures books still as an adult, but also to highlight the fact that picture books make up a good portion of the titles that regularly come under fire by book banners. This is another example of an award-winning novel and a darling of many of our childhoods that is still regularly challenged. Though, again, its true message of the balance between adventure and the love of home that the story presents seems to be lost on some readers. Like Kate’s example above, it’s also thought to be too scary for children, though as a young reader myself, that was part of the reason I, and I suspect many other children, love it! The tension is what made it exciting! A quote from an article regarding the banning of this story: “Boys and girls may have to shield their parents from this book. Parents are very easily scared.” (source)
What banned books are favorites of yours or have you read this year? Let us know in the comments below!