Yup, it’s that time of year again: Banned Books Week, which runs from September 25th to October 2nd. In Canada we’re supposed to celebrate Freedom to Read Week in February, but I say why limit ourselves to one week? In celebration of the freedom to read, here are some of my favourite books which have been subject to bans and challenges. You can find another good list at the Ms. Blog and see the top 10 challenged books of 2009 at The Guardian. Other great resources are the extremely thorough database at The Beacon for Freedom of Expression and the Banned Books blog.
1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In 2006 the novel was banned from the AP English curriculum in Maryland because a parent complained it was “sexually explicit and offensive to Christians”, although the ban was eventually overridden. In 2008 a parent in Toronto officially complained about the book, but the School Board recommended in 2009 keeping the book in the Grade 11 and 12 curriculum.
2. Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks. In 1993 a shipment of books was held up at Canada Customs as possible hate literature, but was released a day later.
3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Banned from a number of school districts in the 70s and 80s, Slaughterhouse-Five was also “burned on political, religious, and vulgarity grounds.”
4. The Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry.These were some of my all-time favourite books as a child, but was one of the most challenged books in the States in the 1990s, apparently due to references to beer and Playboy.
5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. In 2000, Reform Party Executive Council member Terry Lewis tried to get the book removed from school reading lists and distributed 10,000 pamphlets against it, arguing the book’s frequent use of “God-damned”, “Jesus”, and “God” in prophane ways offended Christians. No action was taken by the district he targeted.
6. Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Couldn’t find examples, but it’s one of the top 100 banned books of the 20th century.
7. Plays by Shakespeare. In 1999 a teacher in Savannah, Georgia, required students to obtain permission slips before reading Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear, citing “adult language” and sexual and violent content. In 1996 a highschool in New Hampshire pulled Twelfth Night from the curriculum, after the school board passed a resolution prohibiting “prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction”, although that school board was voted out and the decision reversed in 1999.
8. Where’s Waldo? has apparently been challenged at several libraries for having an illustrated teeny tiny topless woman sunbather lying face down on the beach page of the original book. I guess I was so busy looking for Waldo I never noticed.
9. The Freedom Writers’ Diary. In 2008 a teacher in Indiana was suspended for a year and a half without pay for using this book in her class against the wishes of the school board. Note, the book is WAY, WAY better than the terrible movie with Hilary Swank.
10. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax was banned in the Laytonville, California School District for being allegorical and “criminaliz[ing] the forest industry”.