Banned Books Week: Your banned-kids’-book reading list (updated)

It’s Banned Books Week, celebrating books that are absolutely, objectively horrible and mustn’t be read by anyone. They’re books that need to be blocked from school libraries, ejected from public libraries, struck from publisher’s lists and set on damn fire every time they’re encountered. Which means that most of them (although by no means all of them) are worth reading, particularly when it comes to books for school-age kids who shan’t be exposed to naughty language or mentions of sex. Because if there’s one thing that abstinence-only education has taught us is that if you never, ever mention it, kids will never do it.

So here are six banned and/or challenged children’s and young adult books to read to a kid this week in honor of Banned Books Week.

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Where it was banned: Virginia (and challenged in Michigan)
Why it was banned: Not just too graphic, but pornographic for middle-school kids
Why it should be read: It’s history, for God’s sake. It’s actual, epistolary history through the eyes of a girl who’s the age of the kids (in some cases not) reading the book. It’s graphic, scary? History is graphic and scary.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engel
Where it was banned: Challenged in Alabama, in Iowa — it’s gotten a lot of challenges
Why it was banned: Magic and anti-Christian themes
Why it should be read: “Caperton’s favorite book” should be reason enough, but try this: Smart outcast uses intelligence and love to save the world. Or, see above in re: “Caperton’s favorite book.”

Forever, Judy Blume
Where it was banned: Arkansas, protested by the ironically named Parents Protecting the Minds of Children (but really take your pick of states)
Why it was banned: Portraying a teen’s entry into young adulthood, including depictions of sexuality and promoting a “homosexual agenda.” Kids absolutely must be sheltered from stories about things they’re experiencing in their own lives.
Why it should be read: Because kids absolutely shouldn’t be sheltered from stories about things they’re experiencing in their own lives. They should be given stories about people going through what they’re going through, so they don’t feel so alone, and people going through what they aren’t going through, so they’ll learn to develop compassion.
Similarly: Deenie, Blubber, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, and basically every other book Judy Blume ever wrote, for pretty much the same reasons; she’s practically the patron saint of banned books.

Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss
Where it was banned: California
Why it was banned: No shit, “homosexual seduction” on the part of Sam
Why it should be read: I mean, it’s an easy-to-read little-little kids’ book about trying things instead of just dismissing them out of hand. Eventually, I suppose that could include homosexuality, but in my brief babysitting experience just getting them to try non-Kraft mac and cheese is a win. Plus, I can say with authority that it’s great for reciting to drown out the angry shouting of fundamentalist campus preachers.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein
Where it was banned: Florida
Why it was banned: “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes,” a poem suggesting that kids can avoid drying dishes by breaking them on the floor
Why it should be read: That poem, and all the other silly poems, because silly poems are good for kids. That one happens to also be among Caperton’s favorite poems (which is a short list because I’m not really into poetry), and I was never influenced to start destroying my family’s property to get out of doing my chores.
Similarly: Where the Sidewalk Ends, banned for the poem “Ladies First,” which apparently supports cannibalism.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
Where it was banned: Dunno.
Why it was banned: I’m actually not sure. I’ve seen it mentioned on numerous lists of banned books, but I’ve never actually seen an explanation as to why it’s so terribly verboten. So I’ll make one up: It’s terrible and ban-worthy because it might make children defy authority and run away to live in museums and touch all the exhibits that are clearly labeled “don’t touch.”
Why it should be read: Because getting locked into the Met sounds awesome, stories about young girls solving mysteries are awesome, and stories about young girls making stories are even awesome. (Okay, yes, because it’s another one on “Caperton’s favorites” list. I was a reader. So sue me.)
Similarly: The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

And a bonus banned book to keep around, although probably not to read aloud at night:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Where it was banned: California
Why it was banned: For including the definition of “oral sex”
Why it should be read: For… defining words, including but not limited to “oral sex.”

And that doesn’t even include the books that communities have determined are inappropriate for high school-aged kids, a list that includes just about anything that mentions sex and/or is written by Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison. So what do you think? What wicked, evil, horrible, inappropriate, banned books should we be reading to kids in honor of Banned Books Week?

(Updated 9/24/14 to be more betterer)

In comments, Galen Charlton points us to a post by librarian Kelly Jensen, reminding us about what we should really be celebrating in our observances of Banned Books Week:

When we “celebrate” banned books week, we strip the context of censorship from the equation. Books are the conduit for discussion, but they aren’t the purpose. Their being banned isn’t the celebration.

The celebration is intellectual freedom.

When a book is pulled from shelves, it’s not easy for readers to seek the book out. The notion that anyone can hop onto an online retailer and purchase a copy is fraught with privilege and it undermines the implications of what it means when a book is taken away from readers. A book being censored or removed from the hands of readers isn’t about the physical or digital manifestation of the book; it’s about the fact a right has been striped from another individual or a community more broadly.

The ability to read any book you wish to off any shelf anywhere is about the freedom to thought. It’s about the freedom not to have to jump through hoops to pick up the book everyone is talking about. It’s about being able to decide for yourself whether or not you agree with the central premise of the book or the ideas expressed by the author of that book. It’s about your right to read and think, free from other people making those decisions on your behalf.

Pull one of your favorite banned books off the shelf, make a display, do a read out — and enjoy the fact no one is stopping you from doing so. Read those words out loud, make a video about them, write passionately about those books and what they mean.

But don’t do it under the guise of “celebrating” the banned books.

Celebrate the intellectual freedom to do so.


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16 comments for “Banned Books Week: Your banned-kids’-book reading list (updated)

  1. may
    September 23, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Trina Schart Hyman’s Caldicott Honor Award book “Little Red Riding Hood” that was banned because of a bottle of wine.

  2. Lynne S.
    September 23, 2014 at 8:53 am

    I always have to laugh at banned book lists. I grew up with the Harry Potter books. Part of my family went to book burnings and they pressured my grandma to take my HP books away. She did what I think was best and READ the series up to that point. We ended up going to all the movie releases together later and she read all the books as they came out. The really funny part is that my middle school library had a copy of Stephen King’s The Stand. Now there’s a “banable” book if I ever saw one. It’s also one of my favorites to this day.

    • C.K
      September 25, 2014 at 11:32 am

      Book burnings?
      Literally burning books?
      As in: making a huge bonfire and tossing books on it. Those book burnings?
      Wow, I have no words for that but, wow.

      I can’t imagine anyone doing something like that nowadays.
      It’s sickening and disgusting. Completely despicable.
      Book burnings were in my mind always connected with Nazis. It never crossed my mind a single time that those still happen nowadays.

  3. Coraline
    September 23, 2014 at 9:15 am

    Most classic books have been banned or challenged somewhere for some stupid reason or another. Heck, that list covers most of my favorite books – The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, American Gods…

    Sometimes I think that the best measure of a truly great book is that it has been banned/challenged at some time…

    My “favorite” banned book? A tossup between “Where the Wild Things Are” and “In the Night Kitchen”.

    • September 23, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      I was terribly disappointed that I couldn’t find anything on one of my favorites, The Phantom Tollbooth. I mean, it’s so full of cleverness and ideas that it has to have been banned somewhere, right? And indeed, one librarian in Boulder, Colorado, locked it away for being “poor fantasy,” which is hardly as cool as promoting cannibalism and/or homosexual seduction, but it still counts.

  4. September 23, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Some serious irony going on to ban A Wrinkle in Time (one of my favourite books as well) for anti-Christian themes considering that Madeleine L’Engle was Christian herself, which becomes even more apparent in the rest of that series of books. Or perhaps it just shows that Christians can’t even agree among themselves.

    • Asia
      September 23, 2014 at 11:33 am

      Yea, that series like the Narnia series. Totally starts supporting christian morals. That said if all Christians were like Madeline L’Engle we would have as many problems.

  5. Donna L
    September 23, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
    Where it was banned: Virginia (and challenged in Michigan)
    Why it was banned: Not just too graphic, but pornographic for middle-school kids

    This reminds me of all the complaints that the movie Schindler’s List was inappropriate and unsuitable — not just for young people, but for everyone — because of nudity. (In other words, naked Jews in death camps. Hey, the sight of that might sexually arouse somebody. Can’t have that, can we?)

  6. September 23, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    I found Please Stop “Celebrating” Banned Books Week by Kelly Jensen an interesting read. It’s a little bit inside-baseball, as the post is mainly directed at people like librarians who run events during Banned Books Week, but it makes a good point that the focus should be less on the banned books themselves, and more on the underlying principle of intellectual freedom:

    The ability to read any book you wish to off any shelf anywhere is about the freedom to thought. It’s about the freedom not to have to jump through hoops to pick up the book everyone is talking about. It’s about being able to decide for yourself whether or not you agree with the central premise of the book or the ideas expressed by the author of that book. It’s about your right to read and think, free from other people making those decisions on your behalf.

    Pull one of your favorite banned books off the shelf, make a display, do a read out — and enjoy the fact no one is stopping you from doing so. Read those words out loud, make a video about them, write passionately about those books and what they mean.

    But don’t do it under the guise of “celebrating” the banned books.

    Celebrate the intellectual freedom to do so.

  7. Moxon Ivery
    September 24, 2014 at 7:11 am

    “Christ Stopped at Eboli” is my favourite banned book.

  8. Tim
    September 24, 2014 at 10:10 am

    and tango makes three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; illustrated by Henry Cole

    Where it was banned Ankeny, Iowa* among other places.

    Why it was banned because gay penguins.

    Why it should be read because gay penguins. Also, it’s adorable.

    *Technically, it was only “challenged,” as the school board ultimately voted to keep it in the library.

  9. dude_alex
    September 26, 2014 at 3:25 am

    With regards to the Kelly Jenson post, I think there are two kinds of bans that need to be distinguished. 1. Ignorant bans that arise out of puritanical misinterpretations. 2. Deliberate bans that reinforce systems of oppression.

    The second kind imo shpuld not be merely subsumed under a framework of “getting to read what we want”… when a book is banned for giving meaningful sex ed or teaching an indiginous language, it is just as much about public justice as it is about private freedom. In those cases it seems rather important that we “celebrate” the partcular book and the cause it can represent, rather than simply celebrating a general, content-indifferent “right to read”.

    • EG
      September 26, 2014 at 8:06 am

      I think you’re making a false distinction. Bans that arise out of puritanism and misinterpretation are also about maintaining systems of oppression. Puritanism is a system of oppression.

      Further, an attempt to ban a book is an act of oppression in and of itself. It’s an attempt to use public access to control what other people–particularly people who do not have the resources to buy books on their own, so children, poor people.

      • dude_alex
        September 26, 2014 at 8:45 am

        You’re right of course, the fact that puritanical ideology gets to influence public discourse without needing understand what goes on is a big problem, and I should have taken this into account.

        Maybe I am misinterpreting the idea behind “intellectual freedom”… but I am a little nervous about what seems to me like an a priori defense of all published material without any regard what they actually say. How do we say no to hate speech if we say yes to every text?

      • EG
        September 26, 2014 at 11:36 am

        I think it’s possible to find a text loathsome without attempting to ban it. And I don’t think it’s accidental that we never read about challenges to Ann Coulter’s books in the US, or that kind of thing. I would absolutely argue against the kind of vile crap that gets churned out by right-wing pundits, but I wouldn’t try and get it pulled from my local library. And I definitely wouldn’t want my kid to read, I don’t know, Twilight, because I think it’s misogynist crap, but I wouldn’t try to get it banned from her school library.

        Nobody’s saying you have celebrate every banned or challenged book–I myself don’t have much use for Roald Dahl–but I really don’t see what’s at odds in celebrating the books themselves.

      • September 29, 2014 at 7:34 pm

        Part of the consideration for librarians is taking the long view about the purposes a text might be used for. Mein Kampf is a terrible text to base a political system on, but essential reading for certain kinds of academic studies. The presence of any particular text in a library shouldn’t be considered an endorsement of the contents by the librarians — it most likely just says that a librarian made a professional judgment that it would serve the needs of the library’s users.

        To take a less fraught example, your average public library will likely have “weeded” computer books from the 1990s a long time ago — not out of any desire to censor them as such, but because there are better computer books to put on the shelf. Different story, though, if the library specializes in the history of computers.

        As far as hate speech is concerned: who decides what to censor? Keep in mind that in many places, public libraries are government agencies. If librarians were to adopt anything other than a hard line against censorship, I’m afraid that they would quickly be subverted into not collecting anything that is uncomfortable for the local majority.

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