Banned Books Week: Books challenged this year – Part II

As I wrote about yesterday, an August news story on book challenges in the schools had as a sidebar a list compiled by the American Library Association of 20 books “banned” by schools already this year. Yesterday’s post covered the first 10, listed alphabetically, and today I’ll take a look at the remaining 10.

I should note first, though, that given the date of the article, the list did not include Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, which were banned earlier this year at a Missouri high school but have been kinda sorta restored. Likewise, it does not include Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, removed from 6th grade reading lists in a Virginia school district for as being age inappropriate for being derogatory toward Mormons.

As with yesterday’s post, I do not know the nature of the “ban” for any of the books. I found fascinating, though, the wide range of books, from preschool through high school. Thus, I’m providing some information on them and, because the list doesn’t mention the grounds for the challenges, I’m speculating about it based on those descriptions. Here is the second half of the list, again arranged alphabetically:

My Darling, My Hamburger, by Paul Zindel. This Young Adult book is the story of two couples in their senior year of high school. One couple confronts pregnancy and the options available to them. From that point, it’s not hard to imagine that sexuality, abortion, etc., fuel any fire about the book. I think I am most intrigued by the title.

The Patron Saint of Butterflies, by Cecilia Galante. This book strikes me as having an interesting subject for younger readers (Grades 6 to 9 according to School Library Journal and Grades 6 to 10 according to Booklist). It tells the story of two 14-year-old girls who live in a religious commune in Connecticut. As may be necessary, one is a rebel and the other a “wannabe” saint. They end up running away after the rebellious one is subjected to punishment in the group’s “Regulation Room.” I speculate the religious overtones are seen as critical or anti-religion and, naturally, the physical and emotional abuse of teenage girls isn’t a subject about which kids of that age should learn.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. For whatever reason, Chbosky’s book didn’t make the list of most challenged books of 2010. This coming of age tale of a 10th grade boy talks about first relationships, sexuality, drug use, and even the suicide of his best friend. Kind of suggests the reasons people object — sex, drugs and teen suicide. None of which, of course, face any kids that age in the real world.

Pit Bulls and Tenacious Guard Dogs, by Carl Semencic. This one may baffle me more than any other book on the list. The book gives historical information and breed standards on 22 dog breeds considered “manstopper” guard dogs. The criticism of one reviewer is with the concept “that a dog that is willing and able to maim an intruder is a desirable family pet. It is not.” I can see the point but that doesn’t seem to be the type of objection that would lead to a school complaint.

Push, by Sapphire. Even though this book and the movie it inspired (Precious) were highly acclaimed, it’s content isn’t pretty. After all, it deals with incest, pre-teen and teen pregnancy and an abusive mother. All sorts of things we don’t want kids to know about because not knowing protects them.

Shooting Star, by Fredrick McKissack Jr. This book also deals with an issue that has been on the front page for several years now — steroid use by athletes. The book, which School Library Journals says is for Grades 8 and up, deals with a high school football player who begins taking steroids, with “tragic results for himself, his team, and those he loves.” In addition, “[p]rofane and scatological language abounds, but it is not outside the realm of what one could hear any day in a school locker room.” Will the book encourage kids to take steroids? Will it teach them nasty words they haven’t heard? Is that risk greater than the other elements of life at that age that lead to such activity?

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley, by Colin Thompson. Here we have a “laugh-out-loud picture book” that evidently addresses human nature through the story of a rat. Rats have short lives and they, or at least Riley, are born happy and die happy. Humans, in contrast, live far longer but are seemingly rarely, if ever, happy. Evidently because the book is aimed at children age 4 to 7 or 8, it reveals something about us that they are too young to learn.

Vegan Virgin Valentine, by Carolyn Mackler. Both School Library Journal and Booklist peg this book as being for Grades 8 and up. The problem with the story about an overachiever high school senior appears to be two-fold. First, her older sister is a “nicotine-addicted nympho” who evidently has “a fondness for the F word.” The other is that by the end of the story the main character is no longer a vegan or a virgin. I’m guessing it’s the latter that most concerns people.

What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones. This is the only book on the list that is on the list of top 10 most challenged books of 2010, a list it also made in 2004 and 2005. From the book’s descriptions, the challenges probably are based on age appropriatness. School Library Journal says it is for Grades 6 to 8 while Booklist gives a range of from Grades 6 to 10. The verse style of the book is told from the standpoint of a 9th grade girl and, according to Publishers Weekly, “poignantly captures the tingle and heartache of being young and boy-crazy … [and] keenly portrays ninth-grader Sophie’s trajectory of lusty crushes and disillusionment.”

“What’s Happening to My Body?”: Book for Boys, by Lynda Madaras with Area Madaras. Oh, oh. Big problems here. The book is aimed at kids at age 10 and up. But (he whispers) it’s about sex education. It deals with a boy’s “changing size and shape, … reproductive organs, voice changes, romantic and sexual feelings, puberty in the opposite sex, and much more.” Not only does it deal with such icky and sensitive topics, it has “comprehensive … line drawings.” To many, that translates to written and visual filth.

I realize many of my comments are sarcastic, if not outright snarky. But what strikes me is that the vast majority of these books seek to impart information to kids about what is or will be going on in their lives or, at a minimum, what is happening to others their age. We all recall the difficulties of reaching adulthood. Why do we want to clamp down on information that might better enable kids to deal with that transition. I don’t have a problem with a parent saying their child is a “late bloomer” and maybe a book is more appropriate next year. But I do have a problem with a parent dictating that for everyone’s son or daughter.

Instead of asking–“How much damage will the work in question bring about?” why not ask–“How much good? How much joy?”

Henry Miller, “With Edgar Varèse in the Gobi Desert”

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