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Free People Read Freely

In 2001 and 2002 I did something called the Banned Books Project (the remnants of which you can see here) and here.

The BBP coincided both years with Banned Books Week. And what is BBW?

Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year. Observed since 1982, the annual event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted.

Mostly, the project brings attention to those pieces of literature which have been challenged (by parents, school districts, etc.) or banned outright, due to content or subject matter that they perceive to be offensive or inappapropriate.

I think in recent years the original vision of Banned Books Week has been clouded by too much politics being brought into the mix. Which is too bad, really.

Anyhow, I'm not in the mood to get into the political aspects of all this (read Dr. Frank's post on BBW from last year). Obviously, banning books is a bad idea. But people have had bad/goofy/ridiculous/alarming ideas about what YOU should or shouldn't be reading/listening to/watching for ages and it's never going to stop. Between the people all the way on the left and the people all they way on the right, they'd want just about everything out there taken away. If it's not for religious/moral reasons then it's for reasons that stretch the idea of political correctness to new boundaries.

What it comes down to, in my eyes, is that some people think children are delicate little flowers who should be given the idea that life is all about flowers and rainbows and fuzzy kittens and no one every talks bad about anyone or calls anyone names, no one ever questions authority or talks back to parents, no one ever gets hurt or bleeds or acts out in violence, teenagers never have sex or break hearts or smoke cigarettes or drink or experiment with drugs or use foul language or cut out of school, that people don't use racial slurs or tell offensive jokes and are never demeaning to women, that we can cut reality out of history, that gay people don't, or shouldn't, exist, that nothing frightening ever happens, that people don't get divorced or die ugly deaths or get murdered, that kids aren't mean to each other and that boys don't flirt with girls, that kids don't get depressed or angry, that scaring children with silly ghost stories will warp their little minds forever, that shielding them from war and death and the harshness of life is a good thing, that science fiction destroys your brain cells, that being a free thinker is dangerous, that sex is dirty, that people are always nice to each other and don't make judgments based on religion or ethnicity, that people never used figures of speech that could now be considered wrong....you get the picture.

One of the most frequently banned books of 2004 is the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, for offensive language and modeling bad behavior.

They banned Captain Underpants. That, my friends, is it in a nutshell. Who the hell takes it upon themselves to spend the time and expend the effort to get Captain Freaking Underpants BANNED? Who is that sensitive, that uptight that they think there is something wrong with an eight year old kid telling fart jokes? EIGHT YEAR OLD KIDS ARE SUPPOSED TO TELL FART JOKES.

STOP trying to make our kids - and by kids I mean from preK all the way through high school - into little robotrons who all subscribe to the same morals, ideals, sense of humor, way of life. Let them discover life for what it really is instead of taking all this away from them only to have them discover - much too late - that life isn't like that at all. And what the hell is so wrong with laughing at a superhero in a diaper?

What is wrong with letting kids read what life really has in store for them, for seeing what's really out there instead of some fake plastic world where none of the things you think are bad for them exist? By depriving them of these ideas you lose the chance to teach about them. By keeping them sheltered you lost the chance to talk about things they may face. By not allowing them into the lives of others through books, you make them think there is no other way of life out there but theirs. You're stifling their creativity, keeping their minds from growing and keeping THEM from growing as human beings. How can you learn about life if you are not allowed to experience it all, including the good and bad? You can't wait until a child is 18 before you open up the world to them.

Wow, I've gone completely off track here. Sorry.

Below is the list of the 100 Most Frequently Banned Books. I've bolded the titles I've read.

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
8. Forever by Judy Blume
9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
19. Sex by Madonna
20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
30. The Goats by Brock Cole
31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
32. Blubber by Judy Blume
33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
46. Deenie by Judy Blume
47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
55. Cujo by Stephen King
56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
65. Fade by Robert Cormier
66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
71. Native Son by Richard Wright
72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
74. Jack by A.M. Homes
75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
77. Carrie by Stephen King
78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier


One of my favorite reasons for banning "To Kill A Mockingbird" is one I just read about: People were afraid it would inspire hate crimes.

Dude, I know 29 year olds who tell fart jokes. And who the fuck bans 'Where's Waldo'? The book doesn't even have any damn words in it.

Additionally, half of those books I read as a teenager: Fried Worms, Wrinkle in Time (middle school I read that), Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, a TON of Stephen King/Richard Bachman, same with Judy Blume, James and the Giant Peach(!?); I mean, of that list of 100 books, I'd say at least ten to twenty of them are some of the greatest American lit out there - and I'd bet most of them have been somewhere in the top 5 of the national bestseller list at some point in time. Whatever.

In grad school I wrote a defense of We all fall down which was used eventually used in a published work of rationales.

Eliminate one of those "used" - whichever one you the reader prefer. I'm easy that way.

My daughter's summer reading this year (required for her HS AP English class):
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Catcher in the Rye

Previous years:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Farenheit 451
Harry Potter
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Outsiders
Slaughterhouse Five

I am very glad to live in a place that the school system doesn't limit students' reading because the books are considered controversial.

There's a lot of great books on there, but also... I dunno... some real crap. I read Heather Has Two Mommies once when I was supposed to be working, and it was great, except for one thing, which maybe I'm just being picky...

In one of the pictures, one of the "mommies" is wearing a shirt that says "No Nukes"

No Nukes.

"What does that mean, mommy?"

And suddenly it's a book about nuclear war and you have to explain why people with two mommies are in opposition to our country's foreign policy decisions, past and present.

Suddenly there's an assumption that everyone who thinks it's OK to have two mommies also thinks that the US never should have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, that we should get rid of all our nuclear bombs because we don't have any real enemies in the world, they're just inventions by Republicans to get reelected.

There's no place in the world of Heather Has Two Mommies to accept its basic principle without also being won over to an entire ideology of socialism and anti-Americanism.

It is a book written to be banned, because I have nothing wrong with anyone having two mommies or two daddies or whatever, but I really don't think that nuclear disarmament really needs to enter into the picture when we're talking about homosexuality. That does no one any favors.

So I'd say, if you ever want to see gay marriage and gay rights and general acceptance of homosexuality in America, don't buy Heather Has Two Mommies.

What in the Sam Hill is A Wrinkle in Time doing on there?

In short, detractors accuse it of challenging traditional religious beliefs, or some shit.

I agree with you that banning books falls firmly into the category "bad things." But I don't agree that making all books freely available to all kids at all times -- or using some books as teaching materials -- is always appropriate either. There are some subjects and ideas that are too hard or too complicated for kids of certain ages to deal with, and limiting their exposure to those subjects until they are of an age to process them appropriately is one part of good parenting.

I think there is a distinction to be made between communities choosing not to make certain books available to kids in school, either in the libraries or as teaching materials, and communities actively seeking to shut down the sale and publication of such books, which is not -- I think -- what you're talking about.

What it comes down to, in my eyes, is that some people think that life is all about flowers and rainbows and fuzzy kittens

:sniff: you mean, you mean it isn't??

Seriously, I can understand a parent's desire NOT to have certain books read by kids. Howard Stern's leaps to mind: altho I respect his right to perform, I wouldn't want to see his book in the kids section of the local Library.

On the other hand The Canterberry Tales was on my optional reading list in 8th grade... more than half of those stories would pale many of the other listed books in comparison.

The required reading list should be made available to parents -- at the PTA, via mail or online (or all three) -- and a list of alternatives should also be provided. You can't possibly please everyone, but you shouldn't insist any given parent suspend their moral beliefs at the expense of another's. If you don't like the required list, you take it up with the School Board. Don't like that answer? Find another school: virtual charter, home-school, or other.

I'm in shock.......Anarchist Cookbook made the list, but CIA Black Book didn't.

Those are not the 100 most banned bookes.

The link to the list specifically says they're the 100 most challenged books; there's no indication that any of them were successfully banned; just that some parent told the school board they wanted it removed.

(And, as much as I'm a civil libertarian, I don't think that's always wrong, either. Some books should not be in, say, a K-6 library for open checkout.

If this was a list of "books really actually banned from public non-school libraries", I'd be a lot more upset. But really, this mostly boils down to the yearly ALA hysteria fund-drive.

I simply cannot make myself care that a parent might have objected to, say, Ann Rice's softcore porn being in a school library. I've read it. It's not only poorly written crap, but even more importantly, it probably really is inappropriate for Junior High students. Likewise, the New Joy Of Gay Sex. Fine for adults. Don't care if parents don't want it in the school library. Think that's fine. Don't think it's Fascist or Evil or Going To Doom Us All To A New Victorian Repression. But I'm really with Lileks on all of this, anyway...)

How To Eat Fried Worms? What's wrong with that book? My fifth grade teacher read it aloud to us when I was in fifth grade in a Catholic school. A pretty conservative catholic school at that.

It's been asked already but - A Wrinkle in Time? That's just beyond weird! Does anyone know why? A quick google didn't turn up anything.

I dunno, I'm against banning books from, say, the public library or the shelves of bookstores, but that doesn't mean my school library should hand out just anything to my 8- and 6-year-old. It's a matter of degree. Call me old-fashioned if I don't think we should be bombarding kids that age with stories about sex. I mean, do you really object to someone trying to get Madonna's Sex book banned from an elementary school?

Which of these have I read? Not so many:

6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
55. Cujo by Stephen King
70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
77. Carrie by Stephen King
83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King

And I probably enjoyed less than half of those, since other than the Stephen King and Harry Potter books they were all class assignments. I particularly despised Catcher in the Rye when I was forced to read it in high school. Badly-written whining gets on your nerves after a few hundred pages.

What, no "Huck Finn"...?
Anyway, Sigivald beat me to it. I knew the list didn't pass the "sniff test." One would have to say the inclusion of Harry Potter books on the list shows the futility of such attempts to "ban" books. Rowling's books, after all, the most widely-read books of the last 20 years--so it's hard to work up much outrage.
Is there a list of books that have really been banned? (I mean a widespread banning in several states, not just in Jawbone County, Arkansas.) That would be interesting to see. Things like "Lady Chatterly's Lover," "Tropic of Cancer," etc. But when was the last time a book was really and truly "banned" in America? 1950...?
I also agree that some of the books on that list really might not be suitable for grade school libraries.

When I was in high school, my English teacher for the last year was a raving commie, my first introduction to the breed (I lived in Alberta, and it was the 70s). She had all copies of Huxley's "Brave New World" removed from the school (even the one in the library) and replaced it with "1984" as the dystopian novel of choice on our required reading list. After reading both I realized why..."Brave New World" is about a Socialist dystopia, and "1984" about a Fascist dystopia.
So I found it of interest that "1984" is not on the list, and "Brave New World" is. Not all book-banning is done by morally outraged conservatives....

Well damn. I edited this post down to half its original length from this morning and I left out the part that said, in essence, that sometimes there are valid reasons for not wanting a book in a school library.

I also left out the part that said this list was culled from challenges to not just schools, but stores and public libraries as well.

Sheesh, I wish somebody would ban The Color Purple for being one of the crappiest, most overrated books of all time. And Daddy's Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies are just ridiculous (and doomed) attempts at social engineering.

The best thing about attempting to ban books...most of the time it makes kids want to read them. If if makes a kid want to read awesome. I am against banning books. I think it's stupid and ignorant. But I am not above telling a kid I didn't like something or that something is bad so that they will read it. It's how I got my friends daughter to read Go Ask Alice. She was always afraid of drugs, now she understands the consequenses.

Was anyone else forced to read "Good Times, Bad Times" in high school It's about some ambiguously gay prep school kid who is always wanting to "conjugate the verb." Now that was a book my parents would have freaked out about. Of course I never told them about it because I was afraid I'd be too embarrassed to contonue reading it if they knew what it was about. It was the sort of engrossing book that caused my friends and I to actually call each other in the evening after school to talk about it.

You know what books I would ban if I were Fascist Queen of America? All those "YA" novels with Now, Hip, Contemporary, "Real" Problem plots involving so-called "Real™" life. I'd make kids read nothing but 19th-to-mid-20th-century British novels, Greek myths, Roman prose, and medieval poetry. Then when their minds had been honed to some sort of state of being able to appreciate quality, I'd hand them a pile of YA novels about self-involved teens getting involved in drugs or whatever those things are about and tell them "go ahead, read." I expect they'd last about ten minutes before the boredom set in.

You shouldn't wave "banned" book lists in front of someone who dreams of having book-burning parties featuring a menu of Danielle Steele and Judith Krantz on the barbie.

You forgot to mention that I took up your Banned Books Project the next year and eventually installed it in its permanent home at http://solonor.com/bannedbooks/

I say that not so much to toot my own horn, but I see people wondering about why the books were challenged. All the reasons I could find for each one of them is there, if you need to know.

How the hell do you ban a Judy Blume boo k ? Or a Roald Dahl book ? Where is the evil bit in James And The Giant Peach ?

We seriously have problems on this planet.

I think you have to say "I ban thee, I ban thee, I ban thee!" Whereupon the offending book is supposed to vanish in a puff of sulphurous smoke. Or something like that.

I have read (don't have references at hand) that:

To Kill a Mockingbird was challenged in some districts because it contained the "n word" (No matter that a despicable and uneducated character uses it, and no matter that it was a commonly used derogatory term in the time period when the book was set).

A Wrinkle in Time is challenged because the more - shall we say, constrained, members of the Christian faith object to the way things are portrayed. That somehow the "beings of light" that the Aunts turn into are demons rather than angels. (I also suspect there are some people who are a little uncomfortable with its "groupthink is bad" theme).

The Roald Dahl books have been challenged because, at least Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was said to present "not a good way to live" (And no, I don't know what they mean by that either). I think in some cases it's either that unpleasant characters get squashed unpleasantly, or that characters get rewarded without necessarily doing a lot of hard work. (E.g. - the Peach that James entered was just there waiting for him).

I suppose How to Eat Fried Worms was challenged by parents who got scared that their kids might actually emulate the contest described in the book. (Although frankly, I suspect the kids eat lots of stuff far less wholesome than worms in the average school lunch or fast-food meal).

I think I read that "Where's Waldo" was challenged because one of the panels showed a naked (bare-bottom view) baby in it somewhere.

FWIW, "Where Did I Come From" was the book my mom handed me when I asked "The Question."

As a parent, I think I cerainly reserve the right to say "no, that book does not fit with how I am educating and raising my child." But it's not my job to tell other parents what books their kids should read.

So put it on the school reading list, but offer alternatives, up until about eight or ninth grade. Once they hit there, well, they should have the critical thinking skills to determine if some commie garbage really is commie garbage.

A Wrinkle in Time is challenged because the more - shall we say, constrained, members of the Christian faith object to the way things are portrayed.

Heh... I seem to recall L'Engle speaking at Calvin College... so I wonder exactly how constrained you have to be to object to her.

The mind boggles.

thank you so much for doing this article... I'm actually doing a speech for school about book banning and challenging... i'm at a catholic school too so lets hope i dont get mysteriously murdered one night in my sleep... just kidding

I read Bridge to Terabithia again recently... I loved that book
Also the Goosebumps series... I guess they challenged that 'cause kids would get scared... but let them be dammit... if they want to get scared, LET THEM GET SCARED

That list wasn't meant for all books challenged for children... because what child in their right mind would read Of Mice and Men?

And no 5 year old is going to read "Sex Education", "Asking About Sex and Growing Up", "Girls and Sex" etc etc

And by the way, why would you challenge Harry Potter?? If your kid is going to stop playing video games, get his/her butt off the couch and read it, don't OBJECT to that... are you mad?

And everyone loves Roald Dahl... i cant even begin to imagine the nutcase that challenged it

well, that's all my input... i have to finish that speech of mine


Firstly, what the holy crap???

Secondly, I absolutely despise censorship. It cheeses me off to the max.

I'm not only talking about BOOK censorship, but all of the other censorship too. All your doing by bleeping out the fuck word on T.V. is making all of the little children of America want to say it more. It's that anti-social thing. Same thing with sex. Kids don't know what it's like, really, and they don't know much about it other than it feels good and sometimes makes babies.

So, what do they do?
They do the dirty like there's no tomorrow.

Maybe that's why the U.S. crime rate is one of the highest in the world. People are going crazy from not getting enough information...

I know I am!