The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 22, 2006


Celebrate Banned Books Week: read a banned book

Reference librarian Sharon Colvin shares information on one of the Banned Books displays at the library. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
Would it surprise you that To Kill a Mockingbird appears on a list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books?

Did you read Lord of the Flies and Lord of the Rings in college? They too are on the list.

Do your children enjoy Captain Underpants? It has been challenged on the basis of anti-family content, violence and being unsuited to its age group.

These books and many more each year are challenged — defined by the American Library Association (ALA) as an attempt to remove or restrict materials from library shelves based on the objections of a person or group. Banning is the actual removal of those materials. The ALA began electronically compiling and publishing information on book challenges in 1990 (, and its annual Banned Books Week began in 1981.

Surprises in the Banned Books display

The Gleason Public Library is joining bookstores and libraries around the country in observing the 25th anniversary of Banned Books Week, September 23-30, which celebrates the freedom to read. Librarians Sharon Colvin and Kay Edelberg have mounted a compelling display of some of the books on the ALA's list. "Since we're a small library," said Colvin, "we don't have all the books, but we chose the ones that we thought would surprise people, like the classics that were assigned in school." Colvin is referring to Brave New World, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Native Son, and The Grapes of Wrath, among many others.

Children's books too are frequently targeted by parents, groups or individuals who object to offensive language, sexual content or age-inappropriateness in such books as Captain Underpants, Blubber, and It's Perfectly Normal. Among the 100 most challenged books is Annie on My Mind by local author Nancy Garden, published in 1992, which tells the story of two teen-age girls who fall in love.

Top five challenges books

The ALA reports that the top five challenged books in 2005 were Robie H. Harris's It's Perfectly Normal, challenged for homosexuality, nudity, sex education and unsuitability to its age group; Forever by Judy Blume for sexual content and offensive language, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger for sexual content, offensive language and being unsuited to age group; The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier for sexual content and offensive language; and Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher for racism and offensive language.

Judy Blume, popular author of a number of books for teen-agers, was the most frequently challenged author of 2005. She said, "[I]t'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."

Reasons for banning classics

To Kill a Mockingbird was banned from the Lindale, Texas, advanced placement English reading list in 1996 because the book "conflicted with the values of the community." Lord of the Flies was challenged in the Waterloo, Iowa schools in 1992 because of "profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women and the disabled." The Lord of the Rings was burned in Alamagordo, New Mexico. in 2001 outside Christ Community Church along with other Tolkien novels as satanic. Even Harry Potter has been challenged as being satanic, and Shakespeare has come under censure repeatedly. In November 1999 a high school teacher in Savannah, Georgia, required seniors to obtain permission slips before they could read Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear. The Savannah school board had pulled the plays from class reading lists, citing adult language and references to sex and violence.

While reports of challenged and banned books are discouraging and sobering in this age of escalating censorship, Colvin has good news: "People have been checking out banned books from the library."

Carlisleans are exercising their freedom to read.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito