For the last year, I’ve been collecting articles about book banning attempts around the country and the world. It’s less common to hear about book banning in Massachusetts (though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen here), but it’s definitely happening in many states across the country, as well as internationally.
The ALA has graphed their data on banned books by reason, initiator, and institution. As the stories below make clear, the people who want to ban books are mostly parents. (No one is asking the kids what they think.) The reasons vary, but usually have to do with objections to “offensive language” or “explicit sexuality.” And the targets are usually schools, school libraries, or public libraries.
Here are just a few stories:
Texas: A pastor wanted “demonic” books removed from the teen section of the public library. “I understand they have the right to these books, but I also have a right to complain about them,” he said. The Library Director replied that library materials “should not be chosen or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” (ABC13 Eyewitness News, August 2014)
Singapore: The National Library Board withdrew several children’s books for having “homosexual themes.” Three judges of the Singapore Literature Prize resigned in protest. (China Topix, July 2014) Separately, sale of an Archie comic has been banned because it depicts a gay wedding. (Time.com, July 2014)
United States: Judy Blume was interviewed about her books being challenged and banned over the past decades. Alison Flood writes, “Blume’s theory is that children read over what they aren’t yet ready to understand. Sometimes, [Blume] says, ‘kids will actually go to Mom or Dad and say ‘What does this mean?’, which is the perfect time to talk to them about it. But that’s when sometimes parents get hysterical.'” (The Guardian, July 2014)
United States: “Semi-retired” librarian Sandy Bradley tells a story of a parent who felt that Margaret Wise Brown’s picture book The Steamroller was “too violent,” and how she handled the complaint. (Long Overdue Library Book via Boing Boing, July 2014)
Florida: A parent’s concern about John Green’s novel Paper Towns on the eighth grade summer reading list led to the school district’s removal of the book from the list – in violation of their own policy. (Tampa Bay Times, June 2014)
Colorado: Parents wanted to “cleanse” a reading list for an elective Young Adult Literature class. The list included John Green’s Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska, and The Fault in Our Stars, as well as books by Lauren Oliver, Scott Westerfeld, Gayle Forman, M.T. Anderson, and yes, C.S. Lewis. The school board voted (narrowly) to approve the list, and the class will continue as planned. (John Green’s Tumblr, March 2013)
Toronto, Canada: Since the year 2000, about 100 “request for reconsideration” forms have been filled out at the Toronto Public Library, but only nine items have been removed.(Torontoist, February 2013)
Minnesota: Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor & Park, was dis-invited to speak at the Anoka County public library after a small group called the Parents Action League complained so loudly that both the public library and school district rescinded their invitations to Rowell. The parents also wanted the books pulled from library shelves. (Omaha.com, September 2013) The Star Tribune reported in November 2013 that the book would stay on the library shelves.
North Carolina: The local board of education voted to remove Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) from school libraries, due to a parent’s complaint. (“I didn’t find any literary value,” said one board member.) The board quickly reversed their decision. (Christian Science Monitor, September 2013)
Of course, parents have the right to decide what their own children are and aren’t allowed to read. But it is not the job of one parent (or a small group of parents) to decide what everyone’s children can or can’t read. As Clare Boothe Luce put it, “Censorship, like charity, should begin at home, but, unlike charity, it should end there.”
For more quotes about censorship, visit the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and Mesa Community College (MCC) Libraries’ Banned Books Week guide.