One of the greatest things about being an American is access to information, being able to read what you want to read without restrictions by government or anyone else. According to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, which tracks book challenges and bans, “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.
Some challenges wouldn’t be surprising, but here are a few books which were either challenged or banned, and the bizarre reasons why:
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr. Banned in Texas by the State Board of Education in 2010 because the author’s name was confused with the name of a Marxist theorist, and the mistake was never caught. Those folks really could have used the skills of a librarian on that one.
The Dictionary. What sort of insanity is this? Well, apparently there is factual information on sex in the dictionary, and we can’t have people getting factual information on sex, right? Both Merriam-Webster and American Heritage Dictionaries have been banned multiple times.
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Banned in 2010 and 2013 for sexually explicit themes because Anne talks about her anatomy in the 50th Anniversary version, which included previously unreleased entries. Anne Frank didn’t have access to books about puberty, because she was hiding from Nazis in a closet for two years, people. Get some perspective. Yes, it’s a difficult book to read. Yes, it’s important to read it.
Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein. I grew up reading Shel Silverstein poetry. I can still recite a few of them to this day, which probably explains a lot about my sense of humor. I have always appreciated Silverstein’s combination of weirdness and wonder, and as a librarian I’ve often steered young readers to his books when they tell me they “don’t like poetry.” He changes their minds every time. Where the Sidewalk Ends was once challenged because someone thought the poem Dreadful, in which somebody eats the baby, might encourage children to become cannibals.
And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. This children’s picture book, based on the true story of two male penguins who raised an orphaned penguin egg in the Central Park Zoo, was one of the most-banned books of 2010, and continues to be challenged every year. People get really worked up over penguins, I guess.
The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. Oh, so controversial! A group of California residents were concerned that The Lorax might persuade young people to avoid working in the logging industry. Dr. Seuss never shied away from addressing social and environmental issues (The Sneetches, anyone?), but this was probably his most straightforward tale. Well, somebody had to speak for the trees!
So next time you visit your neighborhood bookstore or library, be thankful for all of the choices you have. Celebrate your freedom to read, and fight censorship! Pick up a banned book today, you rebel!