Thursday, September 9, 2010

Banned Books Week

An interesting title? Yes, well this is the exact same title that caught my eye this afternoon in my daily flick through my blog lists. The source of this title: Reading Today Daily. The post highlights a number of books that have caused controversy in the last year. They write;

To Kill a Mockingbird...the Twilight series...Catcher in the Rye...The Color Purple--these are just a sampling of the most frequently challenged books of 2009, according to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF).

So after further investigation into the ALA Website I learned the difference between a 'challenged book' and a 'banned book'. See full post here. Basically, 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.

So what kinds of classic stories have been banned over the years?

The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Beloved, Toni Morrison

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

I’ve read all of these stories and some of them more than once. If you want to see the full list of ‘banned and challenged’ classics go here. You may be surprised at some of the books that are in the Top 10 challenged books for 2009.

However, the purpose of this post is not to delve deep into the Banned Books List. The list is certainly interesting, but it has prompted me to think about early childhood settings and the books we provide for our young children.

While we don’t go as far as contacting an association to ban stories in our centres (not that I have heard of anyway), there is some level of power that teachers have in their day to day activities that actually limit children’s literary experiences.

Here’s an example:

What are your initial thoughts of the following book?

It's a book about a mole who goes around trying to find out who 'poohed' on his head. When I first read this I thought it was funny, however, when I shared it with a colleague she didn't find it funny she found it offensive. Who gets to choose whether this story is available for young children?

What about more controversial topics and books like "Where do babies come from?" or "Heather has two mummies". Who chooses whether or not children in your early childhood setting are exposed to these stories? What are your thoughts?


  1. I think there is a point between like it and offended. For instance I don't find Little Mole offensive - I just dont want to be asked to read it to anyone! However I have noticed that teenage boys LOVE reading stories like Little Mole to little people. And that is a pretty cool thing to see.
    There are a lot of books written that appeal to a certain stage of kids humour which adults have limited tolerance for.
    On the other hand there are books where I so detest the underlying metanarrative (the Twilight series leaps to mind as an example here as a recent example for older kids - the whole choose to die for love at 17 concept chills me) that I'd struggle to encourage kids to read them from an integrity view point, unless there was a way of discussing them that surfaced the metanarrative.

    Books like "I have two mummies" don't hide the message and are reflecting children's lives - how a teacher handles that is probably going to be about how s/he feels about what is in that mirror.

  2. Kia ora Sonia
    Thanks for your comment, the more and more I think about it the more complex it is. I recall walking into a centre the other day and their shelves were saturated with books of Maori Myth and Legends and Pasifika stories. They are a centre where the roll is predominantly European. While I applaud this and am inspired by this. It makes me think about the power teachers have over literary experiences for young children. Who chooses? is a very pertinent question.

  3. Hi Naketa
    I have always loved reading the Mole story to children and relished the innocence of their responses to it, but have encountered many other teachers over the years who don't like to read it. I think that as always it's a case of reading what you are comfortable with to children - love the thought of teenage boys reading the Mole to young children - would be so much fun for them all!
    It is amazing how some of such wonderful classic books offend others when so many find them works of art. Narrow mindedness and bigotry have caused so many atrocities over the ages - feel it is often used as a means of oppression such as the book burning of the Nazi's and demonstrated again this week with the pastor wanting to burn the Koran

  4. Interesting post Naketa! I'm sure you're not surprised to know that The Story of the Little Mole is on my kid's shelf at home.

    It just goes to show that all our information is filtered by someone "who knows better" (teachers, parents, web filterers, publishers, news reporters, politicians ...)

    You've inspired me to let my class 'go wild' at the Otara Library next term :)

  5. @Margaret Yes I had forgotten to make that link but yes the pastor who wants to burn the koran is a good point. With our work now looking at specific areas I have become very interested in literacy and as I delve deeper into 'literacy' so many issues arise for me. The biggest being equity - rich literacy experiences. We believe this happens in early childhood education - but does it if certain genres. themes and topics are silenced.

    @Tara Yes! I'm sure Bevis would love the kids going wild at the Otara Library. That's an interesting point though - we visit the library weekly and in stereotypical boy fashion our boys go straight for the comics. However. the best comics are in the over 12's section - both the boys are under 12. Who chooses?

  6. If you want to read a banned book, read the last book banned in the USA, namely, Fanny Hill, last banned in 1963.

    No books have been banned in the USA for about a half a century. See "National Hogwash Week."

    Thomas Sowell says Banned Books Week is “the kind of shameless propaganda that has become commonplace in false charges of ‘censorship’ or ‘book banning’ has apparently now been institutionalized with a week of its own.” He calls it “National Hogwash Week.”

    Former ALA Councilor Jessamyn West said, "It also highlights the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don't talk about much — the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it's totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all." See "Banned Books Week is Next Week."

    And then there's Judith Krug herself who created BBW:

    "Marking 25 Years of Banned Books Week," by Judith Krug, Curriculum Review, 46:1, Sep. 2006. "On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn't fit your material selection policy, get it out of there."

    Lastly, remember the ALA does not oppose book burning when doing so would interfere with its political interests. Go see what Judith Krug said about Cuban librarians: "American Library Association Shamed," by Nat Hentoff.

  7. What books do schools select that reflect their own particular culture? In discussion with some teachers recently they commented that their quite narrowly religious school banned 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and we suggested that this book encouraged the freedom of thinking outside their very prescribed traditional community values.


  8. Isn't it interesting that in my experience childrens attention is often captured by the over the top responses that as adults we make, and in this case to books. Those things that we try and make 'nice' like poos and wees, and oh my goodness, snot, and then the fear factor. Some of the most involved moments I have had with children and books has been when reading topics to do with these very things. Some titles that are guaranteed to engage, 'Too Many Monsters' By Eve Bunting - dealing with the fear for children surrounding monsters. 'The Snot Goblin by Mira Mee, self explanatory, 'Willie wants to wee-wee' by Murray Ball. Thank goodness I say for books that deal with issues that are real for children. And thank goodness that young children are sensible enough to seek out real answers to real issues. Unlike the ban the book brigade. And as teachers let us be guided by the responses we receive from children, if they are engaged and asking for a repeat read, they are obviously interested and going to be motivated to learn. Learn new vocab, new sentence structures, new grammar, new concepts and the list goes on. Isn't that what we are trying to achieve?


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