Sunday, September 27, 2009

Banned Books Week

I am late in getting started, but I fell down a rabbit hole. Of sorts. Health issues with both kids swallowed my Friday, and yesterday's JASNA trip to Pennsylvania Hospital (to see art by Benjamin West and tour the historical old building with parts that date from 1755 to 1801) basically exhausted me.

And now, it's Sunday afternoon. And based on the website, http://www.bannedbooksweek.org, I'm giving you the list of the 10 most-challenged books in 2008 according to the 513 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom. I hope you'll go ahead and count how many of them are written specifically for children and teens:

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

2. The His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. Individual titles are Northern Lights (called The Golden Compass in the U.S.), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass

3. The TTYL series by Lauren Myracle. Individual titles are TTYL, TTFN, and L8R, G8R

4. The Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz. Individual titles include Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones

5. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

7. The Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar (At least 9 separate titles)

8. Uncle Bobby's Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen

9. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

10. Flashcards of My Life by Charise Mericle Harper

You may have noticed that there are far more than 10 books on this list; there are, in fact, at least 22 books on this list (if I'm correct about there being only 9 Gossip Girl titles, and assuming that The It-Girl titles don't count in the Gossip Girl tally).

Out of this list, I hope you spotted that 8 of the 10 (or, if you prefer, 20 of the 22) were written for children or young adult readers, and the other two - The Kite Runner and Bless Me, Ultima are frequently taught to high school students.

Both of the picture books on the list - And Tango Makes Three and Uncle Bobby's Wedding - are about same-sex couples who are forming families. They are frequently challenged on the basis that they are anti-family and because they include homosexuality. Tango has been challenged for being anti-ethnic, which kind of cracks me up - it's about actual penguins, and penguins pretty much defy traditional notions of ethnicity, don't they?

You can read the reasons these books were challenged at the Banned Books Week website. You may find it interesting to note (or at least I did) that Phillip Pullman's books have been challenged on the basis of political viewpoint, and that The Kite Runner hasn't been challenged for violence, but for being sexually explicit. Because rape is, apparently, sex, and not violence. Don't get me started.

Here are a few additional statistics from the ALA website's page on frequently challenged books for the years 2001-2008:

1. The number one reason for book challenges has been "sexually explicit content". Over 1200 challenges were registered for this reason.

2. "Offensive language" comes in at number two. Challenges on this basis are not limited to profanity. Over 1000 challenges were lodged for offensive language.

3. Over 700 challenges were based on a book being "unsuited" for a particular age group. (I do not believe these were challenges to the placement of, say, The Story of O in an elementary school library - I think most of us would agree with that particular challenge, if it existed.)

4. Over 450 challenges were based on "violence".

5. "Homosexuality" was challenged 269 times.

6. "Religious viewpoints" were challenged 233 times (given that Tango and His Dark Materials and Scary Stories are high on the list with these challenges, it's relatively safe to say that many of these are challenges based on the books being "anti-Christian").

7. 103 books were challenged as being "anti-family", a term which here means "contrary to a particular view of what a family is", and not "opposed to the notion of families". I really think they ought to rename this challenge category and not allow it to stand as is, since most (if not all) books that are called anti-family (such as And Tango Makes Three or Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman) don't oppose the idea of family; rather, they seek to expand its definition.

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