What’s Your Favorite Banned Book?

Okay, so I’m a little late, but the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week was the week before Conference. They have a list of 10 most challenged books for 2006, another of 10 most challenged books of 2000-2005, and another of 100 most challenged between 1990 and 2000.

So which banned book is your favorite?

I’m partial to Allard and Marshall’s The Stupids series of picture books (for example, here’s The Stupids Die). The characters are so wonderfully stupid, laughing at them makes me feel better about my own stupidity. Plus, it’s fun how blatantly they violate taboo on the word stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. Isn’t it fun to say? Maybe I only think so because I have young sons.

Regarding the question of banning books, I can think of three different types of challenges to books (and I’m sure there are more):

1. We should make it illegal to publish this book.

2. I don’t want my tax dollars spent to buy this book for a public (or school) library.

3. I don’t want my child to read this book for school.

I can’t imagine a circumstance where I would be sympathetic to #1. I know this type of example is over-used, but if we start banning books based on what a majority of people don’t like, The Book of Mormon is going to be near the top of the list.

I can see the logic of #2. Certainly we all see our tax money being spent on wars or subsidies or social programs that we don’t like. But we don’t generally get to exercise such detailed control over government actions as to decide how some tiny bit of a library’s collection development budget is spent. Even at the local level, we usually don’t get to vote on specific expenditures, particularly not ones as small as for a single book (or even several copies of a single book). So while I can see the logic of this kind of challenge, I think it’s unrealistic to expect to be able to control public libraries’ collections in any detail. If collection developers consistently buy stuff we don’t like, we should try to get our city councils to hire new people to replace them, but I can’t see challenging single items.

I think #3 is the best case for challenging a book. If a parent just asks a teacher to provide an alternate for a book they (the parent) doesn’t want their child reading, this interferes little with other people reading it. (Of course, the unintended consequence is possibly that kids forbidden by their parents to read a particular book will be overcome with curiosity and find it somewhere else.) Still, I think I would have to object to a book’s contents pretty strongly before I asked a teacher to allow my kids to read something else for an assignment. I recall a BYU professor once saying in a class I was taking that he wouldn’t mind if his kids saw all kinds of objectionable content on TV, just so long as he could be sitting next to them to help them interpret it reasonably. I like that approach, and I’d like to imagine that I could so something similar for my kids if they were assigned to read a book I didn’t like. But then my oldest is only seven so I might feel differently if he’s older and he’s assigned to read something like Basic Instinct: A Novelization for a high school class.

I would be interested to hear what you think about different types of challenges to books.


  1. #43 The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

    #91 Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

    Two of my all time favorites!

    Reading “banned books” were a part of growing up for me. I’ll never forget those “Flowers in the Attic” books I read in jr. high. Haha…

    Honestly, I can understand parents’ worry, but realistically, if parents are going to be offended by that list of banned books, maybe they ought to home school, or stick their children in a bubble (Not that homeschooling equals being in a bubble. I think it’s a valid choice and one I’ve considered for my own kids) .

  2. The Outsiders? Seriously? My son read it for school last year (7th grade). I was so stoked because it’s one of my all-time favorites. Why one earth would they ban it?

  3. I’ve read around 80% of the books listed. It’s difficult to pick a favorite among them since many of them are among my very favorite books. But I do adore To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye.

    I’m not a fan of banning books for pretty much any content and although I censor my kids reading just a bit (because I have one who is a voracious reader but isn’t quite ready for the content of the some of the books he could, theoretically, read) – I really try not to go overboard. By 16, I think they ought to be able to read whatever they want.

  4. My favorites from the long list would probably be Katharine Patterson’s Bridge to Terebithia and Judith Guest’s Ordinary People.

    And yes, of course, The Stupids Die. How could I forgot George Washingmachine, hero of our times?

  5. I think I’m partial to controversial authors, since I love Steinbeck, Robert Cormier, and Chris Crutcher. I have also read a large number of the books on that list, but none of them really stand out as particular “favorites”. I have yet to read The Catcher in the Rye. I do like To Kill a Mockingbird.

    I object to banning books for the first two reasons listed, but as a parent I’m somewhat comfortable with the third reason. Mostly just in cases where the content of a book is really not age-appropriate and where a different book might serve the needs of the children better. When I was about 12 I decided to read everything by Judy Blume, and I ended up reading Forever. I certainly knew about sex and I really didn’t grow up sheltered in any way, but I still kind of wish I hadn’t read that book at that time in my life. If my kids are going to read something explicit like that, I hope it’s more arty like Gabriel Garcia Marquez 🙂

  6. How To Eat Fried Worms? Are you kidding me??
    My teacher read that to us in the 6th grade.
    I loved the Handmaid”s Tale. It’s an interesting take on extreme religion and it’s tole on society.

  7. What’s weird about this is that these books are “challenged” and not banned, and then the fact they are challenged is used to advertise for the book. So these books don’t have much to do with baned books week, but should be part of “complained about books week”

    Where are the books that are actually banned? I didn’t see playboy magazine even on the challenged list.

    Looking at the 2006 list, I can see where I would not personally give my child access to most of the books there and would not approve of someone else giving my kids access without me being able to supervise.

    One reason many of these books were challenged was for “innapropriate to age group” Does that mean the “Beloved” is just sitting on an Elementary School Book Shelf waiting for a 5th grader to pick it up because it has the word love on the cover?

  8. The ALA calls it Banned Books Week, but it merely provides lists of challenged books. For some reason, the ALA does not provide data on how many books were actually banned.

    The ALA website notes:

    Each year, the American Library Association (ALA) is asked why the week is called “Banned Books Week” instead of “Challenged Books Week,” since the majority of the books featured during the week are not banned, but “merely” challenged. There are two reasons. One, ALA does not “own” the name Banned Books Week, but is just one of several cosponsors of BBW; therefore, ALA cannot change the name without all the cosponsors agreeing to a change. Two, none want to do so, primarily because a challenge is an attempt to ban or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A successful challenge would result in materials being banned or restricted.

    Although they were the targets of attempted bannings, most of the books featured during BBW were not banned, thanks to the efforts of librarians to maintain them in their collections.

  9. When I was in high school my mom was asked to be on a committee of parents and teachers to evaluate THE CHOCOLATE WAR that was being used at some grade about which some parents had complained. My mother is very conservative and I was concerned that she was going to crusade for censorship, but in the end, they decided to approve the book for use and allow some kids to read something else if their parents wanted to. It was interesting to see some of the evaluations they used, including going through and counting the curse words on every page to develop a ratio of offensive language to inoffensive language.

  10. Justin: Thanks for the quote. I am interested to know if all challenges are requests to ban, rather than some requests to move a book to a different section of the library or to not prominently display a provactive book.

    I’m still going to hold to my position that some books ought to be banned or challenged. Breakfast of Champions should probably not be required reading in any junior high school program, and probably shouldn’t even be on the shelf at the local middle school library, for example. 1984 should probably not be in the Juvenile Fiction section of the library, important as it is. The Library should probably not do a window display of nudist picture books.

  11. I don’t know.

    I found this information on the website:

    A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

    Regarding the outcome of challenges, I found some information on eight authors here.

  12. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

    Doesn’t it make you feel deliciously wicked that a Mormon apostle, Jeffrey R. Holland, did his PhD dissertation on a book that is #5 on the ban list?

  13. Putting a bit of a spin on the “banned book” idea, my favorite would the The Last Days, by Avraham Gileadi. This is the book, by the brilliant LDS scholar who has spent his life studying Isaiah, which got him into a heap of trouble for speculating over the davidic servant in the end of days. Being the only one of the “six” exed scholars who returned to the Church, I think this book (and his other books) is wonderful and an important part of my library.

  14. I like Oscar Wilde’s aphorism, “There’s no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are either well-written or poorly-written. That is all.” I’m not sure if it’s absolutely true…but it sure seems true.

    I don’t want to censor what my kids read. I just want to know what they’re reading. Maybe I will make a deal with them that they can read whatever they like, so long as they’re willing to discuss it with me. I am a frustrated book club member.

    I’m having trouble understanding the objection to Bridge to Terabithia. I can’t imagine how it would be unsuitable for kids who are at that reading level, i.e. probably-not-first-graders. Well, I guess it has the word “damn” in it. Never mind.

    I love a lot of books on that list, so it’s hard for me to pick just one. Or even three. I love Bridge to Terabithia, The Giver and The Outsiders. I am also a fan of Song of Solomon. I think it’s Toni Morrison’s best book. I also like Brave New World. It’s an interesting companion to 1984. If I were a high school English teacher, I would make my students read both. If anyone objected, they could read something by Judy Blume instead. Just kidding.

  15. I’m embarassed to say I’ve only read 12 of the 100 most frequently challenged books (18 if you count Harry Potter as 7 books, instead of 1).

  16. That’s okay, Nick. I think I’ve only read 11 of them, but I could pump my numbers up by counting multiple books in The Stupids separately (appropriately enough). 🙂

    Good points, Matt W. and Justin about challenging versus banning. As you point out, most of the books on the lists weren’t banned, and when they’re challenged, it’s not always to get them pulled from a library’s collection, but rather to recatalog them into a different part of the collection (e.g. Teen vs. Children’s). But of course it sounds so much more dramatic to say “banned books” than merely “challenged books” or “books it was suggested be moved from one collection to another.”

    Thanks everyone else for sharing your favorites. I second the votes for Ordinary People and The Handmaid’s Tale.

  17. Thanks for the post, Ziff. It’s interesting to see what books people don’t want their kids reading. I think as far as your reasons for banning books go, I’d agree that generally I’d only think #3 is acceptable. One instance where I might support #2 is if it’s an elementary school library. While I love many of the books on the list, there are quite a few of them I don’t think I would want my kids to be able to pick up without me knowing while they’re under 12.

    And as to which is my favorite, I don’t think I can pick one. But one I like a lot that no one else has mentioned is Kaffir Boy.

  18. I love Bridge to Terebithia, and I really like Toni Morrison. Here are two others on the list that I loved that no one has mentioned yet:

    *The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
    *A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

    While I was in grade school, I think I read every book ever published by Madeleine L’Engle and Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

  19. perks of being a wallflower — one of my favorite books of all time

    a handmaid’s tale — the best book i was ever assigned in high school. 🙂


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