Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Some of the Best Books Are Banned: Banned Books Week

As you are most likely aware, it is Banned Books week. Today I made this display:

While this project was done in my capacity as the interlibrary loan manager/general adult services sidekick, it concerns youth services in that most banned/challenged books are challenged/banned in order to "protect the children." Case in point:

The fact that Captain Underpants is so often on the chopping block never ceases to amaze and amuse me. Are we as a society really concerned that our children might think underpants are funny? (Hint: it's too late. This is a commonly held belief). Do the amusing qualities of underpants really qualify as Serious Business that should not be Taken Lightly?

The perceived problems with this particular title are sexual content and setting a poor example. The presence of sexual content is fuzzy at best. I've outlined it in a flowchart:

1. There are underpants in this book.
2. Underpants are worn over underparts.
3. Underparts are involved in sex.
4. By using the power of the transitive property, you can conclude that this book has SEXUAL CONTENT.

The notion of "setting a bad example" has a little more merit in that it actually exists in this book--the protagonists are poor students and notorious cutups. The issue here is that "a bad example" is so subjective that it is difficult to enforce in terms of defining suitable content. Some people might believe that Captain Underpants should be banned because the kids set a bad example; however, there are others who might argue that people who try to ban books set a bad example by trying to force individual values and beliefs upon the larger community.

There was another issue unrelated to Captain Underpants that I came across while making this display, and that's the idea of silence. A lot of books have been banned or challenged because they contain elements that are objectionable--racism, sex, foul language, etc. Take To Kill a Mockingbird. This book is frequently challenged because it contains accounts of racism. But what I can't quite wrap my brain around is this: the book talks about racism in order to show why it is wrong and how it creates a society that is unkind and unjust. How is that an unsuitable or dangerous idea?

The other problem that accompanies this is the idea that difficult issues should not be discussed with children. It is true that not every child is intellectually and emotionally prepared to take on the problems of racism, sexism, violence, or what have you, but is it not just as harmful to pretend that these issues do not exist? It often seems that situations where material is "unsuitable" for children are really code for "I don't feel like exploring the complexities of this issue or answering the questions that a child might have." The importance of dialogue cannot be understated--with dialogue, adults have the opportunity to help children understand and think about difficult issues. With silence, the opportunity to learn and understand is lost.


  1. I love the cautionary covers! They point out just how ridiculous banning a book like Captain Underpants is. I also agree with you that ignoring controversial material in books by banning them rather than taking an opportunity to teach is absurd. Adults should welcome books that inspire (or require!) meaningful discussion.

  2. Such a great display! I worry constantly about the parents who take the littlest thing out of context and decide to challenge the whole book. "Ooooh, Captain Underpants has the word 'boogers' in it! Oh no!"

    I guess the only thing about a challenged or banned book is that it always made me want to read it more. Such is life.

  3. Love the display and this statement: "is it not just as harmful to pretend that these issues do not exist?" I would venture to say it's MORE harmful. While I agree that not all kids mature at the same rate, and thus may not be prepared to handle such touchy subjects, adults don't do them any favors by pretending those issues don't exist.