Banned Today but Not Tomorrow?

In 1963, a book was published that still raises concern from some today. As its title implies, the book, according to some, promoted children to physically abuse their parents. In a recent article published by the Illinois Library Association, a list of banned and challenged books for 2014-2015 indicated a Canadian public library patron demanded this title be removed from library shelves and an apology be issued by the library to the fathers of the community. Dr. Seuss had gone too far with Hop on Pop. Yes, even Hop on Pop, a best-seller since its publication, is not safe from being challenged by dissenting viewpoints today.

Many may think this particular case laughable. Perhaps it is, but there are books that for one reason or another need to be called into question regarding their appropriateness for the intended readership. Titles gain attention for a variety of reasons. It's no wonder why some titles are appropriate for older readers, yet not appropriate for younger students.

The complexity of issues and severity of problems can be too intense or graphic for particular audiences. Author Kahled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is one book that often meets opposition in high schools. Even though schools are discriminating when it comes to choosing what titles will be read for classes, such as the general freshman population, and what will be read for AP Literature students. The Kite Runner has intense moments of violence. At times, sexuality is called into question. Like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, The Kite Runner continues to generate engaging dialogue among students and teachers. Extensive literature has been written about both texts, just like a fair number of books that have been on a banned list at one period of time or another. Whether they are books that shape ideas or books that expose a mind to the real conflicts faced by people of the world, they continue to stimulate discussion in appropriate class settings.

If a title is facing removal from a school's library or reading list, one can only hope those involved will, at least, read the book itself and have a discussion regarding its educational merits. That's not always the case, and there are times when no real process occurs resulting in a title being removed at one's whim. Consider the recent situation created by the Texas Education Board when Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? was banned from early education classrooms. This book's author, Bill Martin Jr., was confused with author Bill Martin, writer of Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation. The discovery of such a mistake makes many call into question whether any real discussion occurred before the policy had been decided. Luckily for the Texas Board of Education, they did not have to justify the banning of books by writers who may threaten capitalism. That could have been a sticky situation for them. When these anomalies occur, it's no wonder why people call into question the process a governing body takes to ban a book, although many would like to hear such an argument.

When groups exchange their ideas in dialogue about a text, they can come to understand different viewpoints, sometimes helping citizens to be more tolerant of others' beliefs. Harry Potter books are some of the most banned books in America, according to the American Library Association. Using religion often as grounds for keeping the text out of youths' hands, people commonly complain about the topics of death and resurrection in the book. The magical and fantasy elements that make the world of Harry Potter what it is are viewed as an affront to the religious beliefs of some. Perhaps it's convenient to have arbitrary policies for deciding which books to ban. With the case of Harry Potter, author and digital rights attorney Deji Olukotun reports, "…while there are Christians who decry the celebration of witchcraft, there are Christians who consider Harry's journey an edifying allegory for Jesus Christ. That's another problem with banning books: it obscures the diversity of viewpoints within its potential readership." Deciding to ban a book based on one particular cause may either satisfy or enflame those within the same culture, religious group, demographic, etc. Besides, there is no guarantee that a particular position held by a group won't change in time.

Lewis Carroll's 1865 publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has made it on banned-book lists for various reasons over the ages. Shortly after publication, the book was banned in some areas because of its possible sexual references. On the other hand, some people regarded its use of talking animals as abominations. In 1931, China's Hunan Province completely banned the book. As the decades passed, the people of the 1960s focused not on the use of personification, but on the use of drugs. While not everyone is a fan of Alice in Wonderland, it's a book that has, for the most part, come to be socially acceptable reading.

Schools don't always get it right. A text might be a little too much or a little too soon, but no matter the title, the discussions that bloom from a book's status may prove to be more important than the text itself. The act of banning books is often scrutinized by more people than a book's potential readership.