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Banned Books

From Harriet the Spy to The Catcher in the Rye

by Borgna Brunner

Banned Book Week (Sept. 21–Sept. 27, 2014)

"Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won't have as much censorship because we won't have as much fear."

—Judy Blume

Many people think that book banning is something that only happened in the past. But in 2013 alone, 307 attempts to ban books were made! Probably the most famous books banned in recent years were the Harry Potter and Twilight series. The reason given for censoring the phenomenally popular and seemingly harmless novels was that they promoted "unchristian magic."

What is a Banned Book?

A banned book is one that has been censored by an authority—a government, a library, or a school system. A book that has been banned is actually removed from a library or school system.

Why Are Books Banned?

As the American Library Association notes, books are usually banned "with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information." Adults often censor books from children if they feel that the books have frightening or controversial ideas in them. In some cases, those censoring books think that a book might be appropriate for older children, but just not younger ones—a book that might be perfectly fine for a ninth grader may be disturbing or confusing to a fourth grader.

Not everyone agrees on which books should be banned. The Harry Potter books are a good example of this: some think they are wonderfully imaginative books that have done much to encourage kids to read; others, who think the Potter books should be banned, think they are a bad and corrupting influence on kids.

Freedom of Speech and Expression

The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees our right to free speech, which includes the right to read and write books that might be considered by some to be too violent, hateful, or offensive. Because this freedom is one of our fundamental rights as Americans, some people feel that any form of censorship is wrong. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, believing that people should be free to read whatever they choose, but that in some rare instances censorship is acceptable.

According to the ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano, "Not every book is right for every person, but providing a wide range of reading choices is vital for learning, exploration, and imagination. The abilities to read, speak, think, and express ourselves freely are core American values."

Some people feel that schools, libraries, and governments should be the judge of what books are good for kids. Others believe that kids or their parents should have the freedom to decide for themselves, and shouldn't have others' viewpoints imposed on them.

A Matter of Opinion

At various times in our history, some of the tamest books have been banned, including such children's classics as Grimm's Fairy Tales and Little Red Riding Hood—the former for being too violent and the latter because Little Red Riding Hood gives her grandmother a bottle of wine, which some feared would encourage drinking! Another children's favorite, Harriet the Spy, was banned because it supposedly taught children to "lie, spy, back-talk, and curse."

Some of the towering classics of American literature have been banned, including J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

Among the young adult novels that have been banned are Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume; Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson; the Anastasia Krupnik series, by Lois Lowry; Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George; and The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton.

Of course, the very fact that a book is on a banned book often makes kids want to read it and find out why!

Famous Banned Books

Below is a list of books that have been banned, along with the reasons cited for banning them.

Book Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Reason Too depressing.
Book Blubber, by Judy Blume
Reason The characters curse and the mean-spirited ringleader is never punished for her cruelty.
Book Bony-Legs, by Joanna Cole
Reason Deals with subjects such as magic and witchraft.
Book The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
Reason Offensive language.
Book Confessions of an Only Child, by Norma Klein
Reason Use of profanity by the lead character's father.
Book Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh
Reason Teaches children to lie, spy, talk back, and curse.
Book Harry Potter books, by J. K. Rowling
Reason They promote witchcraft, set bad examples, and are too dark.
Book A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich, by Alice Childress
Reason Anti-American and immoral.
Book The House without a Christmas Tree, by Gail Rock
Reason Uses the word damn.
Book In a Dark, Dark Room, and Other Scary Stories, by Alvin Schwartz
Reason Too morbid for children.
Book In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
Reason Nudity; Mickey loses his pajamas during his fall in the kitchen.
Book A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
Reason A suggestive illustration that might encourage kids to break dishes so they won't have to dry them.
Book Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig
Reason The characters are all shown as animals; the police are presented as pigs.

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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