Banned Book Week: Children’s Challenges

The cover depicts two of Dr. Seuss's creations hopping on their "Pop."

 By Laci R.
When you hear the words “banned book,” what’s the first thought that comes to mind? Is it a particular title? Do you stay away from these books or welcome them onto your bookshelf? Is your child allowed to read these books? 
I’m always intrigued by a title that has made it onto the banned/challenged books list. Often, the reason is something that should really involve a personal decision on the suitability for any child. Instead of immediately turning away from a title, representation on the banned books list can be cause to look deeper and open up a valuable conversation. 
Reasons for a book to be banned include: racial themes, alternative lifestyles, LGBTQIA+, profanity, violence, negativity, sex, magic and witchcraft, unpopular religious or political views, or any theme deemed unsuitable for a particular age group.  
I have chosen a few children’s books to highlight:   

Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss 
Found in many personal collections, this Dr. Seuss book depicts rambunctious kids hopping on their father as he tries to relax. This book was challenged because it depicts violence against fathers and was thought to encourage such behavior. Parents grew concerned that the silly rhyming story would cause children to destroy their homes, and some even stated that their local library should pay for any resulting damages. Dr. Seuss is no stranger to the banned books list, due to racist depictions of people through wording and exaggerated facial features. However, it’s a bit more far-fetched to ban a story that is just so naturally zany.  
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak 
You’ve likely read this story and may even have it memorized. This classic makes the banned books list for many reasons. Some find it psychologically damaging and traumatizing for young children due to the explosive emotions that Max seemingly can’t control. Child abuse is also listed as a reason, due to Max’s mom sending him to bed without any dinner as a punishment. In addition, witchcraft and supernatural elements continue to check the boxes for reasons to be on a banned books list. However, I see this book as an opportunity to discuss how actions have consequences, imagination knows no bounds, and emotions can often be bigger than us and difficult to control.

The Family Book by Todd Parr 
Todd Parr is certainly not someone you would ever expect to see on a banned books list. His vibrant, emotive, and inclusive books are customer favorites. This title has all the great things you look for in Parr’s books, but not everyone agreed with the depiction of diverse families. Having two moms or two dads caused a lot of people to complain. Sadly, any mention of LBGTQIA+ characters, themes, or elements is often a cause for parents to call for banning books. Instead, I suggest using that time reading together to celebrate diverse love and educate your child about all the wonderful representations of the rainbow- and families!  

Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park  
Even a well-loved series isn’t safe from the banned books list. Junie B. Jones certainly has her own way of talking and expressing herself. This results in a lot of technical grammatical errors with phrases like “runned speedy quick” and “did a shrug.” Junie’s speech patterns landed this series on the banned books list as parents were worried it could encourage young readers to mimic her ways.  
The Giver by Lois Lowry 
This is my all-time favorite book. I read it in middle school and immediately loved it. Every re-read results in the same feeling and, honestly, that’s rare to find. Concern for this book consists of a variety of reasons. “Twisted” and “lewd” content, occult themes, violence, infanticide, euthanasia, sexuality, and suicide are all reasons this story has made its way onto the banned books list. Some expressed that this was the very kind of book that leads a person to have no concern for humanity. The themes in this book offer room for a lot of heartfelt, thoughtful, and meaningful discussion. The Giver is beautiful and haunting, and it makes me feel deeply and fully.
I mentioned the reasons a book might be banned. What about the reasons not to ban a book? Something that isn’t liked by one shouldn’t be taken away from everyone. Books are truly among our best teachers, having a broad impact that can change the world, Censorship isn’t protection from the difficult realities of the world, rather it’s a practice in inefficacy and privilege.  

Everyone should read banned books, including children. Many of the most frequently banned books either are celebrated classics or future classics. I encourage you to read banned books with your child, to look deeper, and to maintain a safe space for conversation. 
Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.  

Teens! Protect Your Bacon!

Six strips of cooked bacon on a black griddle.

By Deborah B.

“Stop! You can’t eat that bacon! It’s bad.” 

You pause and look at the stranger. “It’s bacon. Even bad bacon is good.” 

“No, I mean it’s bad for you.” And with that, the stranger whips your plate of crispy bacon off the table and tilts the contents into an oversized Hefty. You:  

  1. Apologize to the clearly well-meaning stranger and hand over the offending pork. 
  1. Shoot your hand into the bag, fish around, grab a fistful of what feels like bacon, and jam it into your mouth. 
  1. Throw your body atop the table, effectively blocking brunch, or something equally dramatic.

While there may be solid arguments against bacon as a factor in health and wellness, most people – clever teenagers especially – would agree the choice of what to eat should belong to the eater or (maybe) the parents of said eater. Thus, bacon becomes my tasty, non-vegetarian metaphor for censored materials in honor of Banned and Challenged Books Week. 

Banned and Challenged Books Week is an international celebration of the freedom to read and the right to open access of information. Libraries around the globe host events during the last week of September designed to expose and oppose the suppression of ideas, even those many consider unpopular, unorthodox, or downright yucky. HCLS contributes with The First Amendment, a news literacy class exploring the legal protections, exceptions, and precedents of that Constitutional powerhouse.  

The American Library Association launched Banned and Challenged Books Week in 1982, following the verdict in Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico by Pico. In brief, the local school board deemed certain books in their district’s collection “filthy” and removed them. A group of students took issue with this unilateral action and sued. Yes, teens sued the school district and won, albeit narrowly. The Supreme Court ruled that while governing boards had discretion over their collections, that discretion, “must be exercised in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.”   

So, can books and materials still be banned? Yes, but there should be a formal process, called a challenge, which requires written documentation explaining the nature of the objection. The respective board of the organization or company, be it a library, museum, or even a store, must evaluate the contested material and assess whether to retain, remove, or relocate it. Every year the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom collects and publishes a list of the most challenged books. Most are titles for children and teens. 

Are you listening, teens? People want to take your bacon! How about, instead, an act of quiet rebellion? Read a Banned or Challenged book. Then join the conversation. Here a few examples that may interest you:

Drama by Raina Teglemeier has been challenged repeatedly for “LGBTQ themes. ” Other titles receive similar treatment for “sexually explicit” (Merriam-Webster’s 10th edition for the term ‘oral sex’), racisim, violence, profanity, or religious or political viewpoints. Some are simply considered “unsuited to any age group” (Captain Underpants), which is a catch-all for material considered to have no redeeming value. For the record, the ALA (and HCLS) understands that humor is a matter of opinion. However, we have a problem with stealing those laughs from others who want them. 

Brightly has a list of suggestions to get you started: 

Deborah B. loves certain Banned Books more than others, but is an equal opportunity consumer of pork products.  

It’s Banned Books Week

The picture shows a multicolored open book with the description, "Censorship is a Dead End. Find your freedom to read during Banned Books Week! September 27 - October 3, 2020

by Julie F.

“The novel, the story. the poem, are still subjected to a paradox with a long history: Fighting the written word acknowledges its power” (53). – from Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword by David K. Shipler

It’s easy to think of Banned Books in terms of the classics, many of which are read in high school and challenged at that level: Beloved, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Slaughterhouse-Five are three that spring to mind even before I look at a list. In fact, you can even listen here to Benedict Cumberbatch reading Kurt Vonnegut’s famous letter to the Drake County School Board after they banned and burned his masterpiece. Sherlock Holmes himself in support of our First Amendment!

But Banned Books Week involves so much more than the classics, and organizations like the American Library Association, PEN America, and the National Coalition Against Censorship are continually working “to promote freedom of thought, inquiry and expression and oppose censorship in all its forms” (from the mission statement on the NCAC website).

What other forms, you might ask? Award-winning musicals and plays, from Sweeney Todd to Shakespeare’s own Twelfth Night, have been censored and banned in recent years. The Defender Database of the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund has a comprehensive list of theatrical challenges and bans nationwide, and works “to educate everyone about the subjective and transient standards that have been employed by censor[s].”

Another form of censorship you may not have considered is the banning of books in prisons and jails, which is often arbitrary, with no efficient review mechanisms and no independent oversight outside of the prison system. PEN America has also found that literature about topics including race and civil rights is disproportionally subject to banning; you can read about their findings here and learn more about their Literature Locked Up initiative.

The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom provides a continually updated list of resources for those interested in crucial First Amendment issues. To begin, I would suggest reading the Library Bill of Rights and the ALA’s Freedom to Read statement, both of which advocate for our nation to trust individual citizens – not government censors – to make their own best decisions about reading, expression, and the free and open exchange of ideas. After all, as Justice John Marshall Harlan famously wrote for the court in Paul Robert Cohen v. California in 1971, “One man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, reading, journalism, and all kinds of music.