Over the years, school districts and communities have tried time and again to kill ideas they don't like by banning books about those ideas; generally for the flimsiest and most ridiculous reasons imaginable. And time and again, they have failed hilariously at their goal of pretending racism, sexism, and The Gay don't exist. Today, to celebrate the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, let's take a fond look at some of the most inane straws people have grasped at to support their indignant, moralizing screeches about what books are simply too unsafe to put into the hands of our kids.
1. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
If you have had children, you have probably read this book, and if you have read this book, you probably remember that it's a list of different colored animals. If you're wondering what on earth could have been in the text to spur this book being challenged, the answer is "nothing". Notice the author's name up there? It turns out you can also buy a book by Bill Martin called Ethical Marxism. But here's the kicker: these books were written by two different dudes, both named Bill Martin. Yes, a school district banned a book because they mistakenly thought the author might be a commie.
2. Harriet the Spy
This book about a tomboy often makes ban lists, theoretically based on the complaint that it will teach little girls to gossip and spy on their friends (which is sort of the opposite of what I thought the book was actually trying to say, but whatever). I remain suspicious that the real reason behind some of the times this book got kicked to the curb by school boards may have been its non-conformist tomboy protagonist and its lesbian author, Louise Fitzhugh.
3. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
Shockingly enough, this classic Judy Blume book was not banned for its blatantly dorky fake iPhone chat cover. This book delves into territory that woman was not meant to know: menstruation. Far better to keep this book off the library shelf than to give a young woman some advance warning that the blood coming out of her is perfectly normal rather than that the Sin of Eve is finally taking its terrible toll on her body. Or that she has butt cancer, or whatever else a scared kid who has never heard the word "period" outside of grammar lessons is going to think.
4. Charlotte's Web
This sweet children's book wasn't challenged by angry vegetarians who wanted to keep kids from learning that pigs can be turned into delicious bacon, although it does have something to do with what's considered kosher. Kansas parents decided that talking pigs, chickens, rats, and spiders was tantamount to blasphemy - adorable, adorable blasphemy. Flying in the face of God's plan for creation has never been so cute! Good luck to these parents as they undoubtedly go on to try to ban every fable, nursery rhyme, and cartoon ever made.
5. Where the Wild Things Are
God forbid your child read Maurice Sendak's book and get the atrocious idea that they're not the only ones who get frustrated or upset sometimes. This Caldecott Medal winner is decried for glorifying protagonist Max's tantrums - and, of course, because its beautiful, fantastical artwork might lead kids into the occult. No doubt the number of books I read as a child that were supposed to have seduced my soul for Satan explains why I've turned out the way I have.
6. A Light in the Attic
This book features Shel Silverstein's sketch of a man's bare, obscenely dimpled backside; a poem about evolution; and a character whose ticklishness causes him to laugh so hard he rolls under a train and dies - and none of that was enough to get it banned. What was it that crossed the line? The protagonist of one poem decides to break some dishes to get out of washing them. Yup, fractured place settings are way more alarming than homicide!
7. My Friend Flicka
PONIES PONIES PONIES PONIES--sorry, I had a flashback to my Marguerite Henry and Black Beauty-filled fourth grade year. I'm better now. This touching story about a boy and his horse is so packed with homespun, heartwarming goodness that they made it into a movie in 1943 that still gets shown about every 12 seconds on family movie channels. So why does it need to be stricken from the library's catalog? A female dog in the movie is referred to as a "bitch". We sure don't want kids to learn anything about loving and protecting animals if it means we have to stop for five damn seconds to explain a side note about the evolution of language along the way.
8. Twelfth Night
Women chasing girls who are in disguise as boys, cross-dressing, and the always-dreaded "glorification of alternative lifestyles". (If disguising yourself as your twin brother to avoid being sexually assaulted in a foreign city counts as an alternative lifestyle, I feel like it's a pretty obscure one.) People who want to ban this book must not have read all the way to the ending, where heroine Viola drops her cross-dressing disguise and Shakespeare settles everyone down into tidy heterosexual pairings.
This book about banning books was banned because in the futuristic dystopia it portrays, the Bible was one of the numerous books condemned to be destroyed. "We're going to ban your book about how bad it is that our book was banned!" GENIUS. I know the word of God is supposed to be enduring, but did these people really think that meant "fireproof", too?
10. The dictionary
Whoa, there, kiddo, put down that dictionary before you accidentally learn something! Parents in California's Menifee Union school district got the book banned because they were upset it provided a definition for the word "oral sex". Come on, prude parents: you're already robbing kids of some classic pieces of kids' literature, so please don't also deprive middle schoolers of the joy of gleefully looking up "tit" and "wiener" in the dictionary.