The Lehigh Valley has been named to another national list – one we at the Library would prefer not to be on. The list is titled Books Challenged or Banned in 2010-2011. It’s one of the American Library Association’s resources for Banned Books Week.
The 2010 challenge of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed put us on the list. The Easton Area School District retained the book despite a parent’s claim that it promotes “economic fallacies” and socialist ideas as well as advocating the use of illegal drugs and belittling Christians.
Nickel and Dimed didn’t fare as well in the Bedford (NH) School District where it was removed from the required Personal Finance course after two parents complained about the “book’s profanity, offensive references to Christianity, and biased portrayal of capitalism.
Recent book challenges in the East Penn School District insure our inclusion on the next list. Under review are Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. Both are challenged for objectionable sexual content, and both are on summer reading lists, not required reading.
A glance at the 2010-2011 list reveals several titles that have been taught in high schools for decades. The perennially challenged The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger was retained in a Martin County, Florida school district despite a parent’s concern about “inappropriate language.” Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World was challenged at schools in Glen Burnie, Maryland, and Seattle, Washington, for a “high volume of racially offensive derogatory language and misinformation on Native Americans” among other complaints.
Challenged in the Republic, Missouri, schools was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five because it is “soft pornography” and “glorifies drinking, cursing, and premarital sex.”
Sexual content and homosexual themes were the complaints that led to the first recorded challenge (2010) of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl in a Virginia public school.
Reading lists often include recent titles that teachers hope will interest reluctant readers. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants was removed from an elective course at the Bedford (NH) School District after a parent complained about the novel’s sexual content.
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was removed from a summer reading program in Michigan because of its “foul language.”
Two high schools in Florida banned Augustin Burroughs’ Running with Scissors for “extremely inappropriate content” including “underage drinking and smoking, child molesters, and total lack of negative consequences throughout the book.” Profanity, sex, and descriptions of violence were the reasons for challenging Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in Washington.
Banned Books Week 2011 is the thirtieth annual celebration of the freedom to read. Most challenges occur in schools and are usually made by parents who want to protect their children.
While we can understand their motivation, individuals shouldn’t call on government or public agencies to restrict everyone’s choices. Most school districts will accommodate such concerns with an individualized assignment and without impacting other readers’ access to materials.
Interested in the complete list of books challenged in the last two years? ALA can’t give you that because surveys indicate that “approximately 85 percent of the challenges to library materials receive no media attention and remain unreported.” However, you can find Books Challenged or Banned in 2010-2011 along with Banned and Challenged Classics and lists by decade at http://tinyurl.com/6q5ztmw.