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Banned Books Week: it's back

It's happened again. In 2009, "And Tango Makes Three," the heartwarming children's book about two penguin daddies and their adopted baby penguin Tango -- based on the true story of penguins in Central Park -- was one of the year's most-challenged books, according to the American Library Association. Once again, unfortunately, we're celebrating Banned Books Week.

If there is a sense in some quarters that America embraces freedom of expression, there is a sense in others that books present ideas that are dangerous or inappropriate. In 2009, there were 460 challenges reported to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom. The top 10 most-challenged books of 2009 were:

1. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs
2. “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality
3. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide
4. “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
6. “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
7. “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence
8. “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
9. “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
10. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Many of these books are being celebrated this week at libraries and bookstores. So are those that have more recently come under attack, including Sherman Alexie's National Book Award-winning "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," which was banned in Stockton, and Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak," which includes rapes (acts of violence) that have been mischaracterized as sexually provacative pornography.

"When 'Speak' was published, there was some whispering that this was not an appropriate topic for teens. I knew from my personal experience that it was," Anderson told School Library Journal. "This notion was validated by thousands and thousands of readers who connected with me to thank me for the book. They said it made them feel less alone and gave them the strength to speak up about being sexually assaulted and other painful secrets."

This is at the core of the matter, the idea that by locking away the words that describe life experiences we might retain a kind of innocence. As if without "To Kill a Mockingbird" there might be no racism, or without "Catcher in the Rye" we might forestall the difficult questions of adolescence. This, of course, is hardly the case; these books might, just might, help teach us otherwise. 

That is, if we can find them on shelves and read them.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

Comments () | Archives (15)

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I'm so glad that my elementary and high schools both participated in celebrating these "banned books". In the days when our President speaking to school children is somehow construed as socialist indoctrination, I admire our librarians for standing up and making these texts available to those that wish to read them.

are you all serious? i don't really believe you i'm sorry. who would be stupid enough to ban any of these books? i consider all of this, except for 'Huck Finn', pretty light reading.
book banning is moronic anyway. if you are smart enough to read, you wouldn't think you'd be into banning books. i hate censorship, unless it's snuff material, you can't go to far with it anyway. if you don't like it don't read it. and stop ordering everybody around. that's a bad habit and hard to break.
book banning establishes no rules. rules are good, sometimes, but these aren't rules, they're nonsense. people need to wake up and start educating themselves properly. this is getting to be SOOO trying.
look. we all would like to play God and rule the world, but that's just not possible and just plain wrong.
i could say some very rude, mean things, to these mindless book banners, but being a civilized person, i just won't say them.

Really? To Kill a Mockingbird? Since the playwright of the film version, Horton Foote, changed my writing life, I'm stunned that anyone could not perceive the gentleness and the humane heart of both the movie and the book.

Any stupid cop drama on TV is more worthy of objection than Lee's, and Foote's, work of art.

The Satanic Verses should be #1 on the any list of banned books. Its real censors are a wave of religious extreemists so violent that publishers refuse to publish it.

We know about the books -- what about the censors? Who are these people? Where do they live? Are home addresses available? Phone numbers?

Our society is confused by this portrayal of certain rights as absolute. In fact, freedom of expression is not an absolute right every time it affects the rights of another. Such is the case of libel, slander, threats against the life of the President of the US, hate speech, etc. Contrary to conventional wisdom (and/or politically correctness), there are indeed things we write or say that are wrong because they damage other people. So the portrayal of any speech as absolutely protected or justified is conceptually incorrect. Your newspaper's consideration in not publishing libelious comments is a reminder of this. Thus the problem does lie in WHAT is appropriate to publish and what not; not on whether there is an absolute right to publish anything. There isn't; proof of which is the fact that nobody can publish, not even possess, child pornography. Period. You can't do it. So where is the absolute right of expression there? Nowhere, because there is no such thing! And in that case this is so because there is a direct damage to a protected class of people: small children. This is done because they are small, weak and innocent and society cannot stand idle while they are being taken advantage of. There is no such freedom as that of the free fox in the free hen house; what is there is a conniving idea by which someone is trying -through selfish and evil motivation- to overpower the weak to THEIR benefit. In the case of this book, who is at the center of this story? Is it the daddies? The author? Or little Tango? In this contemporary discourse on homosexuality I see more of impositions of caprices than concerns for the rights of little ones...

As it turns out, my very own comments are being moderated and will not appear until approved by the author! Lets hope I myself am not banned...!

I love how a book "And Tango Makes Three" can be banned, based, as they point out, on the true story of penquins in the Central Park Zoo. This must be a real threat to some folks - since being gay is a "lifestyle choice" in the minds of these people, how are they to explain two penquin daddys and the chick that adopted them? Either animals can make a choice about their sexuality, or sexual orientation is something that they are born with. Either way, it makes this book downright subversive - either animals are more human than they would like, or human sexual orientation isn't a choice...

I plan to buy a copy to fight ignorance, and in support of banned books everywhere!

The end of this article sums up my views on the idea of book banning.

"This is at the core of the matter, the idea that by locking away the words that describe life experiences we might retain a kind of innocence. As if without "To Kill a Mockingbird" there might be no racism, or without "Catcher in the Rye" we might forestall the difficult questions of adolescence."

Locking away books because of what is inside them is useless. Those things still exist. The main character of a book has two moms. Jane Doe sees this book on her eighth-grader's "recommended reading" list and gets it banned from that school. A couple days later, the same eighth-grader, or better yet, perhaps her fourth-grader, tells her about their new friend Sally whose mom came to pick Sally up at school with her new girlfriend in the car. How does Jane ban Sally from school? ban her mom from existing? she can't control everything her children come in contact with.
I read The Color Purple when I was ten or eleven. Now, I'm slightly more mature than others of my age, but it was still an eye opener. And guess what? I didn't break down in tears because this existed. I found it fascinating. I devoured that book. And when classes were told about bad things in life, about people who did that sort of thing to their children, I understood as very few children in that grade understood. When I was slightly older, maybe twelve, thirteen at the oldest, I found a pretty graphic adult novel lying on the floor of the house. Now, I'm a reader, always have been, so I picked it up and read it. And you know what? I loved it. It was well-written, it had clever dialogue and interesting characters and a neat setting. I actually checked it out last week from my local library, where thankfully we have escaped the ravages of overly vigilant parents and our books, our histories, the histories and lives and fantasies of the world, are still available.
Now, the most interesting part of all this is that I'm 18. I still haven't acted out in any way. The worst thing I ever did with a boy was kissing, and I was 16 when that happened. Contrary to what people seem to believe, these books didn't put horrible, demonic thoughts into my head-I'm still religious. My bible is in my bookcase, a row above my Harry Potter books. I didn't go to any after-prom "parties" in a hotel room or the backseat of the car. I'm not racist, I'm not doing drugs, I'm not evil. The irony is, I wasn't doing these things because I was too busy reading these books that are so horrible, and finding out the good, bad, and otherwise, of what real life is like, through the words of an author.

There's a logical error in this article (and the Library Association). The focus of the campaign is that banning books in school libraries is wrong. It then goes on to make the point that Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak," has been mischaracterized as sexually provacative pornography. But if banning books in school libraries is wrong, it is also wrong to ban books that are sexually provocative pornography and even glorify child rape. The key (unspoken) point of the Library Association seems to be that only professional librarians should make the determination of what is age appropriate for children--not parents. This is a more difficult point to make and does NOT have to do with banning books--only who gets to ban them.

Banning books is banning life. When parents' children make the mistakes that they fear these books will teach them to do, what explanation will they come up with because they will, make mistakes. We humans are finite.

Parents, talk to your children about what they read, see and hear. Encourage them to make responsible choices and accept responsibility for their choices. If you deny them opportunities to read about all of life (NOT PORN of any kind), curiosity is natural and they will find a way to satisfy that curiosity you might not approve of. Know they will make mistakes (you did). Don't forget, you were not perfect and if you expect perfection from them, they will resent you.

They may be curious about sexual things and find a way to look at a Playboy or Playgirl. If you shame them, you will harm them. If you discuss their curiosity with respect for their dignity you will have open communication. Wanting to know more is normal. Not being who you thought they should be is normal. Parents aren't exactly who their children thought they should be and they have to live with that. So banning books if banning life. How sad.

You're certainly not talking about banning books here, but keeping books out of children's hands in school libraries. To allow inappropriate reading material in schools is the same as keeping a child from seeing an "R" or "X" rated movie. We have these barriers for a reason.

Perhaps the best idea would be to have a sticker or rating for these books that tell parents, teachers and librarians what is in them, and allow parents to approve them before their child can read them. Do you think there should be a warning sticker on "The Lovely Bones", or should eleven year old girls be reading about a graphic rape and murder of a little girl without any warning?

As a parent I discovered to my horror that my twelve year old son was assigned to read a book with a homosexual gang rape and a scene containing a graphic "butt plug insertion" of the main character. I found it impossible to get this book out of the library, or even to get the teachers to acknowledge anything was wrong with letting my child read this material. At last I asked for a minor thing -- a warning sticker or notice to let parents know their children were being exposed to this kind of material. ( I was rejected. Of course.)

You put your children's reading choices in the hands of teachers and librarians at your peril. Ban books? From public libraries and bookstores, never. From school libraries? You betcha.

Umm... re And Tango Makes Three, you do realize that the "gay" penguins are no longer a "couple", right?

"The widely publicised story of the two males bringing up a baby, named Tango, made them gay icons. Their same-sex household was cited by liberals as a corrective to the traditional “family values” displayed by Emperor penguins in the hugely popular new documentary, The March of the Penguins, which has been hailed by Christian conservatives.

“If Emperor penguins are sending us a message about heterosexual marriage, then what are Roy and Silo doing?” The New York Times asked in an editorial. Their relationship even became the subject of a children’s book, sold at the zoo’s gift shop, entitled And Tango Makes Three.

But Silo walked out on Roy for a girlfriend from California called Scrappy, which moved to Central Park from San Diego’s SeaWorld. The new heterosexual couple built a nest and hang out by the pool, while Roy broods alone."

So, do you think there will be a sequel?

I, for one, am REALLY tired of having the gay agenda thrown in my face all the time. I just don't care about it.

Especially when, as a parent, this agenda dictates government policy, and consequently, affects the curricula of my children.

Banned? You can pick these up at any Barnes & Noble or Amazon. Parents asked that their kids not have them in the public school libraries or on required reading lists. Parents are still allowed to parent, are they not? And it has nothing to do with abridging any writer's freedom of expression. They were, after all, already published.

What a hack job.


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