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What Makes a Banned Book?

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based on 16 ratings
By
November 30, 2007
Updated on May 5, 2010

It’s hard to believe that in our first-amendment driven society, book-banning still goes on today. According to the ALA, books are usually challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, namely children, from difficult ideas and information. But, explains the ALA, censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt. 

So what does it take for a book to make the "banned" list? Unfortunately, not much. Typically, a parent or patron finds offensive material in a book and deems it unworthy for people (usually children and young adults) to read. Books have been banned for the following reasons: offensive language, violence, having an occult theme or promoting the occult or Satanism, being unsuited for an age group, promoting homosexuality, racism, sexual education, being anti-family or promoting a religious viewpoint, and nudity. And if a book is challenged enough times, a school (or public) library usually feels pressure pull it from the shelves, at least for a time.

Children’s author Betsy Franco’s anthology You Hear Me? Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys, was banned for language, sexual content, and references to drug use.  Says Franco, “I purposely did not censor the book, which makes it authentic to teen readers.” Franco admits that parents will not understand this book as well as teenage boys will, but says she wanted to present the uncensored accounts of teenage boys without the filter of adult sensibility.

Here are just a few of the banned books, per the ALA, that you may recognize from the last few years:

  • The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier for sexual content, offensive language and violence.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman for religious viewpoints.
  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker for homosexuality, sexual content, and offensive language.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou for sexual content.
  • The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky for homosexuality, sexually content, and offensive language.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain for racism.

Off the list in recent years, but included in years past, are the Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Beloved by Toni Morrison. Banned for younger readers were The Great Gilly Hopkins and Bridge to Terabithia, both by Katherine Paterson.

Deborah Davis, author of many teen novels including, Not Like You, objects to the practice of banning books: “Perhaps people who object to teens reading thoughtfully-written books dealing with sexual or racial issues are ashamed that they haven’t been responsible or mature enough to teach their children or students about these subjects themselves.” Says Davis, “Would they prefer we stick our heads in the sand and abdicate our responsibility to help young adults learn for themselves what they truly think and feel about those issues?”

As parents, it’s up to you to decide how you want your children to learn about certain tough topics. But take a second to think back. When you were young, did you learn everything from your parents or had you possibly picked up a book or two?

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