Today marks the end of Banned Books Week, as designated by the American Library Association, a week of reflection on and resistance to all forms of censorship, expurgation, and bowdlerization. The ALA’s list of “Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2008” saw some titles mercifully drop from its ranks, including classics like The Color Purple and the perennially misread The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Moving up two spots to No. 2 is Philip Pullman’s atheistically inclined His Dark Materials trilogy, undoubtedly given a bump since the release of the 2007 film adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first entry in the series. The list cites “political viewpoint” and “religious viewpoint” as two of the primary reasons given by those challenging the trilogy, although personally I never understood all the hubbub. In my mind, His Dark Materials and the Narnia series kind of cancel each other out in a school library. Just give a kid both and let her figure out which ham-handed talking allegory she prefers: lions or polar bears.
Politicized animals really do appear to have gotten people’s dander up, as can be seen by the fact that no less than two titles on the list (No. 1 and 8, respectively) are picture books about cute critters in gay families. The most challenged book, And Tango Makes Three, features two male penguins finding love and raising a chick together, a tale that’s not too far from reality. This is Tango’s third year topping the list, and also for the third time, authors Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell participated this week in a reading organized by the ALA’s Chicago office.
It’s nothing new to have highly visible political and social issues play out in our children’s plastic bookcases. I remember that my middle school had a copy of the 1967 educational edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 edited for profanity and, I guess, irony. And I definitely remember the school board’s resigned sighs in the face of a panel of bored housewives unwilling to bestow this book or that with their suburban imprimatur. To honor the end of this year’s Banned Books Week, tell us some of your most memorable banned book experiences. Do you have any favorite controversial titles?