This week is Banned Books Week, an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association and a host of other organizations to bring attention to books that have been challenged or removed from libraries, schools and reading lists over the past year. You can find the full list of challenged books from 2009-2010 here, and it contains plenty of good reading, from Sherman Alexie’s Diary of a Part-Time Indian (often challenged but beloved by readers) to the anthology Paint Me Like I Am: Teen Poems. The list tilts strongly toward young-adult novels and sex manuals, but there are a surprising number of classics, including To Kill a Mockingbird (a parent objected to the word “nigger,” which seems to miss the point), Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (a perennial on this list) and the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, which, shockingly, contains the term “oral sex” and has therefore been (no joke) removed from classrooms in the Menifee, California, Union School District and may be banned permanently there. The most often-challenged book in 2009, according to the ALA’s top ten list, is ttyl and its companion volumes ttfn, l8r, and g8r, which, as you might guess, are YA novels.
The list contains a handful of comics, as well:
• The Cartoons that Shook the World, by Jytte Clausen: The Yale University Press removed twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed from this anthology of political cartoons.
• The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, by Alan Moore: Two workers at the Jessamine County Library in Kentucky were fired after they kept this book checked out for a year, to keep it out of circulation, then looked up information on a library patron who had requested it and, upon finding that the patron was an 11-year-old girl, canceled the request themselves. They had already challenged the book, but the library opted to keep it on the shelves.
• Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age, by Ariel Schrag: This anthology was removed from school libraries in two Sioux Falls, South Dakota, middle schools because of some of the themes of the comics, which included bullying and masturbation.
• Dragon Ball: The Monkey King, by Akira Toriyama: Someone found the pages with the boobs and overreacted. The first volume of the manga is rated T+, but after an earlier dust-up, Viz Media removed the nudity from subsequent volumes to keep it suitable for U.S. kids. While one could possibly make an argument for not shelving that first volume in an elementary school library, the district’s decision to pull every volume from every school (including their middle and high school) reeks of overkill.
Not on the list, probably because it occurred after the deadline, was Margaret Barbaree’s attempt to have all manga removed from the public library in her hometown of Crestview, Florida. Barbaree circulated a petition (somewhat misleadingly labeled an attempt to remove pornography from the library) and addressed the Crestview City Council, claiming that her son had been driven insane by unnamed manga (detective work indicated the titles in question were Gantz and Psychic Academy). While the books remain in the library, it has reorganized the shelves and created a separate teen section to keep the kiddies away from the hard stuff.