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October 3, 2008

Banned Books Week

And Tango Makes ThreeBefore Banned Books Week ends tomorrow, we should note the most-challenged books in 2007. The American Library Association, which publishes the list each year, says the top spot is held for the second straight year by And Tango Makes Three. Two male penguins fall in love and hatch an egg -- a story line that has triggered challenges around the U.S. Others on the list: The Golden Compass (also known as Northern Lights), The Chocolate War and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.    

Philip Pulllman, author of The Golden Compass, told the Guardian that his "immediate and ignoble response was glee. Firstly, I had obviously annoyed a lot of censorious people, and secondly, any ban would provoke interested readers to move from the library, where they couldn't get hold of my novel, to the bookshops, where they could." The Guardian also has a quiz to test your knowledge of banned books.

That raises a question: Should any books be restricted -- if not banned -- for children according to age. Most parents are careful about what young children read (or what movies they see), guarding against topics from monsters to sex. Now British publishers are adding a "recommended for ages ... " mark to their books. Is that helpful, or a step down the slippery slope to censorship?



Here's the complete top 10 list from the library association, including reasons for challenging the book:

1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell. Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier. Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes. Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Reasons: Racism

6. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7. TTYL, by Lauren Myracle. Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris. Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 9:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Children, Whatever


1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell. Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

Great Balls of Fire! I just had to go to the library's site and put a hold on this. Anti-Ethnic?? These are penguins. What ethnicity is that??

I do think a parent should know when these books - and others - are being read since there are issues that might want to be brought up. Healthy discussion is a good thing.

I've written about this here before, but when my kids decided not to read anymore - one of many adolescent attempts to drive me crazy - I would read a book myself and then tell them not to touch it, since it contained things I didn't want them to read. (No, really, I had to say, "...too much sex for someone like you")

>Should any books be restricted -- if not banned -- for children according to age?

You know, my parents went a different direction with this. There was practically nothing on our home bookshelves (which held a huge variety of fiction and non-fiction) that was forbidden to me. At the library, while other kids were banished to the Young Reader's Room, I could roam anywhere in the shelves and my parents often checked out books for me that the librarian wouldn't let me check out on my own. They decided it was better to answer my questions about what I had read than to let my curiosity wither and die in the face of constant denial. I was definitely a better reader and a better student because of it, and in the long run, most of the things they would have been tempted to bar me from reading, turned out not to really interest me that much beyond that first flush of curiosity.

Great strategy, Eve. Reminds me of the joke by B.J. Novak, one of the actors and writers for The Office (a favorite in my non-reading time). Goes like this: I spent four years in college. I didn’t learn a thing. It was really my own fault. I had a double major in psychology and reverse psychology.

I came across a link to an opposing viewpoint on banned books week. Whether you agree with the author's religious/moral/etc. views, she does bring up a valid point about the fact that librarians choose which books make it on to library shelves. I'm planning to write a post about this over the weekend ... I'm sure if will stir up some hot debate!

What I wonder about is whether the books were actually read before they were challenged? You look at some of the comments and think, "Dude! Didya READ it? It doesn't say that at ALL!"

Second, and somewhat tangential comment: children's literature as a genre are relatively recent in the history of mankind. Up until the Industrial Revolution (and somewhat during the Industrial Revolution), most kids were WORKING most of the time - helping out in the family business, learning a trade, etc. etc. The kind of books they may have seen were the school readers and then they left school early to help support their families. It's taken us, what, about 100 years to build up a body of work to the point where we complain about it?

I feel like saying, "Count your blessings that your kid has time to read and bug you about a book."

I never censored my son's book choices. I did however try to steer him toward books that he would be capable of reading, understanding and enjoying. I wanted reading to be a pleasure for him and not a chore and I felt like a book that was too difficult would only frustrate him. In that vein, I think age recommendations could be helpful. By the way, my son's in college, majoring in English.

I see a common theme among the commenters: caring and thoughtful parents. When parents work with children on reading, and in picking appropriate books, government guidance (or censorship) really is beside the point, isn't it?

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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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