On the Banning, Censorship, and Challenging of Books

“We must teach students about their First Amendment rights rather than restrict their use of particular books and materials. As educators, we must encourage students to express their own opinions while respecting the views of others.”—Protect Our Freedom of Speech, Teach  It, Pat Scales

“Damn all expurgated books; the dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.”—Walt Whitman

 In early 2007, there was a BIG kerfuffle over The Higher Power of Lucky, the children’s book that had recently won the coveted Newbery Medal—which is considered by many to be the most prestigious annual award bestowed upon a work of children’s literature.

Why the kerfuffle? Well, author Susan Patron included one word on the very first page of her award-winning book that shocked many people—even some librarians. That one word was “scrotum.” One little word and the book was banned from a number of school libraries.

In her New York Times article With One Word, Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar (February 18, 2007), Julie Bosman wrote:

Pat Scales, a former chairwoman of the Newbery Award committee, said that declining to stock the book in libraries was nothing short of censorship.

“The people who are reacting to that word are not reading the book as a whole,” she said. “That’s what censors do — they pick out words and don’t look at the total merit of the book.”

That often happens—people trying to get a book banned because of a word, phrase, sentence, paragraph being taken out of context. There are also various and sundry other reasons why people try to ban or censor books.

 In 2007, I was inspired to write a poem about the censorship of books after reading about the “scrotum” kerfuffle:

Book Talk
by Elaine Magliaro

Dressed in uniforms of blue,
The word police arrived at two.
With laser eyes, they scanned our pages
And locked our naughty words in cages.
Then up we cried: “You’ve taken text!
Will you remove our pictures next?”

“Your pictures?” one policeman said.
We only take the stuff that’s read.
Your naughty words must be excised.
Let all your authors be advised
To watch their words when they compose
Their poetry…and all their prose.”

Warning given…the men in blue
Then turned to leave. They bid adieu.
We books now left with words deleted
Feel somehow, sadly, incompleted. 


You might be surprised to learn that a number of children’s picture books have been either banned or challenged—some because of their illustrations—in the past. They include the following:

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

“In 1977, the Illinois Police Association urged librarians to remove the book, which portrays its characters as animals, and presents the police as pigs. The American Library Association reported similar complaints in 11 other states.”

Source: Banned Books


Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman

“An illustrated edition of “Little Red Riding Hood” was banned in two California school districts in 1989. Following the Little Red-Cap story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the book shows the heroine taking food and wine to her grandmother. The school districts cited concerns about the use of alcohol in the story.”

Source: Banned Books Online

 And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

“And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group.

 Source: American Library Association

“And Tango Makes Three” is based on a real-life story about two male penguins tending to an adopted egg at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. Objections have been raised in schools or public libraries in several states.
Source: Schools chief bans book on penguins: Tale describes males raising egg (Boston.com/McClatchy)

Top Ten Challenged Books of 2009

More on Banned and Challenged Books

From ALA: Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009

FYI: The top four books on the list are children’s books. Books on the list include the following: Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Fahrenheit 451.

From American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression: The Stories Behind Some Past Book Bans and Challenges

From Philadelphia Weekly (8/10/2010): Conservative Agenda Coming to Philly Soon


Back in April, Burlington County, N.J., banned the book Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, edited by Amy Sonnie, from its public library shelves. The School Library Journal once named the anthology one of the best books for high schoolers, and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) calls the book “the first creative resource by and for queer and questioning youth of every color, class, religion, gender and ability.” It was banned by Burlington County Library Director Gail Sweet despite the lack of any formal challenge to the book’s existence. Sweet says she made the decision after Beverly Marinelli—reported by the Inquirer as a “grandmother” and member of Fox News pundit Glenn Beck’s 9.12 Project—complained to Sweet about the publication’s existence.


Now…go get yourself a banned or challenged book and read it! Or read one to a child.

– Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

11 thoughts on “On the Banning, Censorship, and Challenging of Books”

  1. Elaine M,

    Of course, I hear she like younger men…..hey like…her, Charley Sheen…I too went out with older women…I was 18…I think she said that the school that she worked out she taught first grade……..I seemed to remember that therefore..she must have taught me something…….

    We all teach…it is just a matter of what…..

  2. Elaine M i totally agree with you. not only does it affect the childrens environment but it narrows their thinking and then the parents wonder why as the children get older, they get angry and begin to do things the parents don’t approve of. some parents seem to forget HOW MUCH THEY ENJOYED THE VERY SAME BOOKS AS CHILDREN THEY NOW WANT BANNED AND/OR CENSORED from their children

  3. FF Leo,

    I haven’t heard that song for a long time.

    How about a fractured fairy tale?

  4. Well, the only Little Red Riding Hood I knew about was memorialized in this song. It was never banned and I am sure the kids book was less suggestive.

  5. lottakatz,

    I think one of the most important things that adults can do for children is to open their minds–to literature, to science, to other cultures, to the world in which they live. Some people prefer to restrict children’s intellectual growth. I remember a line from the original Auntie Mame movie starring Rosalind Russell that speaks to people who have a “close-minded” attitude. Auntie Mame referred to such folks as people with “braces on their brains.”

  6. There’s an old cliche’ that says you should be nice to your kids because they will pick your nursing home. The folks that insist on making their kids stupid and narrow-minded should keep in mind that those kids are going to grow up and construct or choose the future their parents live in. It’s not going to be a pretty one.

  7. Buddha,

    Cormier’s book “The Chocolate War” seems to always appear on the ALA’s annual list of banned and challenged books. A number of great literary works for both adults and children are always among the most challenged and banned books every year. Maybe because they make people/children think–and when people/children learn to think for themselves it can cause all kinds of problems.

  8. “We books now left with words deleted
    Feel somehow, sadly, incompleted.”

    Robert Cormier – no stranger himself to censorship – once said, “You seldom get a censorship attempt from a 14-year-old boy. It’s the adults who get upset.” On behalf of all those still in touch with their inner-fourteen year old, good job, Elaine.

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