Category Archives: Banned Book Week

Banned Books Week: Two Boys Kissing


Two Boys Kissing
By David Levithan

Reasons for Challenges: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection.”)

This is one of the most beautiful books that I’ve read in a long time.

The language use and way the story is structured are very poetic, a style of writing that I admire and would love to be able to emulate. Based on a true story, it is, at a very basic level, about two boys trying to break the world record for the longest kiss, but it is about far more than that. (There’s a good review of the book here)

Told through the haunting voices of those who have died from AIDS. It creates a sense of hopefulness and regrets – the reflections and comments in the story are worth paying attention to.  

We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you’d never have any doubt about how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are.

We no longer sleep, and because we no longer sleep, we no longer dream. Instead we watch. We don’t want to miss a thing.

You have become our dreaming.  -Two Boys Kissing

This book has faced a few challenges, with the arguments that it is obscene.  One case in Virginia saw an argument arguing that cited the Virginia Code, which “defines obscene as materials that as a whole appeals to an apparent interest in sex and excites lust,” and claimed that the book fell into this category. 

The school board voted (unanimously) against banning the book.

One of the things that is always reassuring about looking at books that have been challenged is when the community responds in a positive way.  When they stand together against the challenges and present arguments about the importance of freedom of speech, about the importance of representation, and don’t allow the important voices of the story to be oppressed.

Banned Books Week: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic



Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
By Alison Bechdel

Reasons for Challenges:  Violence and other (“graphic images”)

This is a graphic-memoir exploring Alison Bechdel’s relationship with her father alongside her personal exploration of self.  It’s a pretty quick read, and very powerfully done.

A number of the challenges to this book have been on the College and University level. When the book was placed on the summer reading list for Duke University, there were a number of students who opposed it being on the list (an opted not to read it).

I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,” wrote one student in a Facebook page discussion.  Several students argued that it would help to expose them to new perspectives, but the students who opposed the book were quite vocal, claiming that the book was pornographic. This is a reflection of some of the challenges the book has faced at in higher-education.  The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a nice case study of the history of challenges of the book.

Here’s the thing that gets me – we’re talking about college students. Adults. And in all cases it was optional reading or the student was offered an alternative reading. It’s not a “save the children” call, but clearly due to the content of the book itself. Yes, there are drawings of violence, there are illustrations of naked bodies, there is talk of homosexuality (because, while not blatently stated in some of these cases it’s pretty clearly part of the concern).  But this is a book for adults to read – and reading a book you disagree with hardly means it is going to compromise your values… if a simple book can do that perhaps you don’t hold those values too tightly?

I can understand the concerns by some parents when looking at public libraries and being concerned that the book – due to the fact that it’s a graphic novel – might be miss-shelved in a place where children’ would think it’s for them (because it certainly isn’t a children’s book). But to try and remove it from the hands of college students is much harder to put into an understandable framework.

 At the College of Charleston, in South Carolina, the House of Representatives cut funding due to the inclusion of the book on their summer reading list.  

“…the book asks important questions about family, identity, and the transition to adulthood…. These are important questions for all college students…. I’m concerned that some members of the (L)egislature believe their duties include deciding what books should and should not be taught in a college classroom…. I believe that 18-year-olds benefit directly from reading and discussing difficult topics in their courses.” – Professor Christopher Korey, head of the summer reading program at College of Charelston.”

The government stepping into a higher education setting and trying to dictate what can and cannot be taught… it’s painful that such things are still happening.


Banned Book Week: Nasreen’s Secret School

6379158Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan

By Jeanette Winter

Reasons for Challenges:  Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to age group, Violence.

This illustrated children’s book tells the story of Nasreen, a young girl living with her grandmother in Afghanistan during Taliban rule.  Narrated by the grandmother, it’s a very honest story about the challenges the girl faced and about the power of having access to education.

Nasreen’s father is dragged away, her mother goes searching for him and never returns, and Nasreen withdraws from the world. Her world darkens and she stops smiling, she stops talking. Her grandmother finds a secret school for her, and there Nasreen finds a friend….

This is a powerful book, and presented in a very appropriate way for the target age audience.  But, it is a story about an Islamic girl during war, there is mention of the Koran, there is a prayer said by the Grandmother and it ends with the phrase Insha’ Allah (translation: God Willing).

This book is features on some Common Core curriculum for 3rd grade so it is in a number of schools and physically put in the hands of children.   This is a problem for some because they feel the topics of war are too much to expose children to at that age.

The claims that the story is too violent for children in third grade is the primary one put forth, but there is clearly also arguments against the religion of the characters.

“We are walking up a slippery slope when we start to decide what books we are going to ban from the curriculum.” – Nikolati Vitti, Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools

There are statements made that it’s requiring the reading of a book “promoting prayer to someone other than God.” and that Christianity isn’t allowed in the school so why should any other religion (one, of course, doesn’t have to look very far to find examples and references to Christianity in any public venue in the US but, again, that’s another post altogether).  One school district found parents claiming that their children were being made to remember a Muslim prayer due to the grandmothers prayer when she drops Nasreen off at school the first time.

“Please Allah, open her eyes to the world.” – Nasreen’s Grandmother

The story is about the power of knowledge, of learning.  It’s about countering the removal of rights and freedom… and it’s a story I highly recommend reading.  I’m glad that it’s in the curriculum so many places, that it’s being read by children in their schools.

Banned Book Week: The Bible

download-1The Bible.
By… it’s complicated 

Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

For the first time The Bible made it on the list of the most frequently challenged books.  It’s interesting to think about why this has made the list.  James La Rue, from the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom speculates that it was “people who feel that if a school library buys a copy of The Bible it’s a violation of church and state…. And sometimes there’s a retaliatory action, where a religious group has objected to a book and a parent might respond by objecting to The Bible.”

Deborah Caldwell Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association thinks that it shows that faith is “very present on the minds of many people in society.”

I’ll admit this one stumps me a bit.  Yes, it’s a bit of a gross generalization but most of the books that make it to the top of this list are because of people who claim themselves as Christian (I would argue that they aren’t actually being very christian, but that’s a whole other post).  The Bible rising to the list means something, I’m just having a hard time articulating my thoughts on it.

So, I wonder what your thoughts might be.   What does it mean — that The Bible made the list this year? Where do you think the challenges came from?

If you want to read some more (and for the resources that the above quotes came from) here are some articles with more information about the Bible making the list.

Banned Book Week: I am Jazz


I am Jazz
by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

Reasons for challenges: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.

This children’s book is the story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender young woman, who knew from a very young age that the body she was born with was not the right body for her.  Her doctor diagnosed her with Gender Identity Disorder, and her life as Jazz began.

It’s an important book, and the topic is well handled in a sensitive and very age-appropriate way.  But that hasn’t stopped the challenges, in Wisconsin an elementary school canceled their reading of the book because of the threat of a lawsuit from the Liberty Counsel- a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group.

What’s beautiful about this particular challenge is the community response. This is such an affirming and wonderful way to respond to the restriction.

I think about the people I have known in various points during my life who are born in bodies that don’t fit who their real identity.  People who could really have benefited from having books to read when they were kids that they could see themselves in.

Representation matters.  Being able to see yourself in the books that you read is important, and being able to hear stories like this can go a long way for helping to encourage compassion and care for others.



Banned Book Week 2016 – Diversity

Time for another Banned Book Week.
This year I’m taking a look at some of the most frequently challenged books of 2015.


Are books that you’ve read on this list?  I’m looking forward to exploring more of them — I had only read one of them before I started looking at what I was going to do this week, I’ve now read a few more of them, and made the decision not to read a few others… but I’ll talk about them still!

The focus of banned book week this year is Diverse Books. The ALA has a bit of an exploration about what they mean by “diverse” that is worth a read.

Censorship thrives in silence; silence is its aim.

This year’s top ten list is very much the tip of the iceberg, with a lot more going on outside our field of vision. But it could be that the shape and composition of the iceberg can be discerned from what we can see.  – James LaRue, director of the Office for Intelletual Freedom, ALA.

One great resource for more about diverse books is We Need Diverse Books – I’ve been a fan since they started out. There is a deep need for diversity in the books we read – diversity of all sorts. People need to be able to see themselves in what they read, and there is a severe lack of diversity out there. So when diverse books are being challenged… It is a sad reflection of what is happening in our world right now.


Banned Books Week: Draw Me A Star and In The Night Kitchen

Draw Me A Star

By Eric Carle


For the life of me I could not think of why this book would end up on any banned book list.  So I sat down recently to re-read it, trying to get into the mindset of why it would be considered objectionable.

It’s amazing how quickly one can pick up on things like that pretty quickly when you’re looking for it.  In this case there were two things I spotted.  First (and the one that seemed to raise the most objection) is the illustrations of a naked man and woman.  This is done in Eric Carle’s distinctive style, and hardly could be considered “graphic.”  However, there are those who do find it objectionable, and it has been removed from libraries (or altered to remove the objectionable content) for this.

What it brings to mind, for me, is the another children’s book that was removed for the same reasons.

In The Night Kitchen

by Maurice Sendak


In the Night Kitchen is a sweet story about a boy, Mickey, wandering through his dream-world.  The objections arise primarily because in some of the illustrations the boy is naked. Various locations have gone the tactic of altering the book, adding clothing to Mickey.