Sometimes adults, whether they are parents, educators, or publishers, dictate what children can read. They demand action beyond the decisions individual parents make about their own child’s reading. Would-be censors often have the best of intentions, and they come from a range of political and religious beliefs. Whenever a book is removed from a library or placed in a “restricted” area, whenever publishers expurgate a book to make it more “acceptable” to modern audiences or decide to stay away from controversial topics or writers altogether, a child’s world shrinks just a little.
According to Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read by Robert P. Doyle, this year’s list of challenged or banned books has 1,890 entries. The reasons most often cited for censoring a book are sex, profanity, and racism. Most challenges take place in schools and their libraries. As I leafed through this book, I was struck by how many of my childhood favorites were on the list. Here’s a small sampling:
- My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara was pulled from reading lists in 1990 because of the words “damn” and “bitch” (referring to a female dog).
- Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh was challenged in school libraries because the book “teaches children to lie, spy, backtalk, and curse.” Its sequel, The Long Secret, faced a challenge because it is “demented” and makes fun of religion.
- Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare won the Newbery Medal in 1959. It was challenged in 2002 for promoting witchcraft and violence.
- The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander includes The High King, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1969. The series was challenged in 1993 as required reading because of “religious themes that are pagan in nature” and “the allure of witchcraft and black magic that runs through the books.
- A Study in Scarlet by A. Conan Doyle, the novel that introduced Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to the world, was removed in 2011 from a required reading list because “the book casts Mormonism in a negative light.”
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine C. L’Engle won the Newbery Medal in 1963. It has been challenged three times for promoting witchcraft, sending “a mixed signal about good and evil” and “undermining religious beliefs.”
More recent favorites for children continue to be challenged or banned as well. Nine of Louise Lowry’s books are on the list. The Giver won the Newbery Medal in 1994. It has been banned, restricted, or challenged eight times. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have been challenged, restricted, or banned an astounding 100 times.
To protect the rights of other readers, particularly children, you can join the supporters of your local public library or check out The Freedom to Read Foundation. You can also participate in Banned Books Week, held every September.
When a few people decide for a whole community what we can read, then we all lose the right to choose.