One last post for Banned Books Week, this time an article that was published in today’s issue of Manila Bulletin:
Banned Books Week!
MANILA, Philippines – The last week of September is Banned Books Week, an annual event spearheaded by the American Library Association (ALA) to celebrate the freedom to read.
Founded on the principle of intellectual freedom, Banned Books Week draws attention to the threats of censorship by showcasing over a hundred books that have been subject to banning, challenge, or any attempt to restrict the access of others.
Banned Books Week is a constant reminder of the importance of “the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular,” and the power of literature to shape minds.
Banned Books Week encourages people to pick up one of the banned books on the list, to think for themselves, and allow others to do the same.
THE BLIGHT ON BOOKS
The ALA compiles an annual list of frequently challenged books, based on reports of formal complaints to libraries, schools, or communities.
From 2001 to 2009, ALA reports 4,312 challenges across libraries in America, with an estimate of four or five unreported challenges for each incident reported.
Parents remain the main instigators for challenges (48 percent), followed by patrons and administrators (each at 10 percent). The challenges are often motivated by the desire to shield young readers from “inappropriate” or “offensive” material.
The breakdown is thus: 1,413 challenges for “sexually explicit” material; 1,125 for “offensive language,” 897 for material deemed “unsuited to age group,” 514 for “violence,” 344 for “homosexuality,” 109 for being “anti-family” and 269 for their “religious viewpoints.”
THE “BANNED” LIST
The most challenged books from 1990 to 2009 span a wide variety of genres.
• John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” (promoting euthanasia and vulgar language)
• Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (racial tensions, Tom as a poor role model)
• William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” (profanity, sexuality, racial slurs)
• Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (anti-family” and anti-religion).
• J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series is the top banned book for the past decade, challenged for its occult content
• Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is deemed too difficult for children
• Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” has been flagged for its God-free heaven and concept of afterlife
• Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” and “James and the Giant Peach” have been criticized for their macabre content and potentially frightening impact
• R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” horror series has been tagged as excessively violent.
Surprisingly, even children’s picture books have been the subject of much controversy. Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen,” which tells of a boy named Mickey who falls out of bed, sheds his clothes, and goes on a surreal culinary adventure, has been defaced in many libraries, with pants or diapers drawn on the pages to cover Mickey’s nudity.
Helen Bannerman’s “Little Black Sambo,” a late 19th century favourite, has been criticized for racial slurs and dark iconography, and has undergone many revisions since, the latest a politically correct but watered down “Boy and the Tigers.”
2009’s top ten most challenged books are: “ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r,” a txt-savvy series by Lauren Myracle (drugs, nudity, offensive language, sexuality); “And Tango Makes Three,” a picture book about two male penguins adopting a hatchling (homosexuality); “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” an epistolary young adult novel by Stephen Chbosky, (drugs, homosexuality, sex, and suicide); the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (profanity, racism); and the wildly popular “Twilight” saga by Stephenie Meyer (religious viewpoint, sexuality).
Also in the list are “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (offensive language, sexual references, blasphemy, and underminding of family values and moral codes), “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult, where the protagonist sues her parents for being expected to donate a kidney for her sister who is dying of leukemia (offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexuality, violence); “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things” by Carolyn Mackler, a coming-of-age novel featuring a plus-sized protagonist (offensive language, sexuality); “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, a story about the life of black women in the ‘30s (offensive language, sexuality); and “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier, a critique on mob rule (nudity, offensive language).
Among the top banned authors are Cecily von Ziegesar (“Gossip Girl”), Phillip Pullman (“His Dark Materials”), Toni Morrison (“The Bluest Eye”), Dav Pilkey (“Captain Underpants”), Lois Duncan (“Killing Mr. Griffin), Louise Rennison (“Angus, Thongs, and Full-frontal Snogging”), and Katherine Paterson (“Bridge to Terabithia”).
Children’s author Judy Blume is recognized as one of the most banned authors in the US since the 70’s, as her novels for young readers, such as “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” “Blubber,” “Tiger Eyes,” and “Forever” deal with complex and often controversial topics such as religion, divorce, body image, death and sexuality. Despite three decades of censorship, however, Blume has sold 80 million copies of her books worldwide.
Blume believes that censorship grows out of fear, and parents are easily swayed because fear is contagious.
“This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don’t read about it, their children won’t know about it. And if they don’t know about it, it won’t happen,” Blume writes on her website. Blume laments that today’s books are not just challenged for profanity and explicit sexuality.
“Books that make kids laugh often come under suspicion; so do books that encourage kids to think, or question authority; books that don’t hit the reader over the head with moral lessons are considered dangerous.” Blume states. “It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me, it is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”
For more about banned books, visit the ALA website (http://www.ala.org/).
Blooey Singson is adding more banned books to her reading list. She blogs about books at https://sumthinblue.com.