It’s that time again – Banned Books Week – to consider the hundreds of books, some of them classics, that have been banned across the country at one time or another.
Libraries and bookstores are promoting the titles that have been yanked from reading lists, schools and library shelves because someone – typically a parent, often complaining about sexually explicit material, offensive language, violence or homosexuality – found them problematic.
“The Diary of Anne Frank,” “The Great Gatsby,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Catcher in the Rye” have all been challenged for various reasons.
Three years ago, the children’s book “Captain Underpants” beat out “Fifty Shades of Grey” for most-banned honors.
And we’re not just talking banned in Boston.
We’re talking repulsed in Republic.
Five years ago, Missouri State University professor Wesley Scroggins wrote a column in the Springfield News-Leader complaining that a book called “Speak,” by Laurie Halse Anderson, was “soft pornography” and should not be required reading in Republic’s high school English classes. He also charged that the content taught principles contrary to the Bible.
The book, a 1999 National Book Award finalist about a high school freshman who is sexually assaulted at a party, is regularly challenged by schools across the country.
The Republic school board eventually voted to allow “Speak” to be used in the district’s high school, but removed Kurt Vonnegut's “Slaughterhouse-Five” and Sarah Ockler's “Twenty Boy Summer” from its libraries and reading lists.
For Banned Books Week, the American Library Association released its annual list of most-frequently challenged books.
Some of the books that made the list for 2014 are: “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison; “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky; “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini and “A Stolen Life,” Jaycee Dugard. (See the full list here.)
The Kansas City Public Library, which prides itself for celebrating the freedom to read, keeps a list of books banned or challenged in Kansas and Missouri on its website.
Here are some of books that have raised ire in the Sunflower and Show-Me states over the years, according to the Kansas City Library. See the full list here.
▪ “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. This National Book Award winner was the most challenged book of 2014, racking up 311 formal, written challenges, according to the American Library Association. It is the story of a student from a reservation who decides to attend the all-white farm town high school where the only other Native American is the mascot.
In 2010 the school board in Stockton, Mo. found the sexual language and themes of violence, alcoholism and racism too much and removed the book from the school library and curriculum.
“We can take the book and wrap it in those 20 awards everyone else said it won and it still is wrong,” said board member Ken Spurgeon.
▪ “Annie on My Mind” by Nancy Garden. This is the only book on the library’s list that was actually burned. The young adult novel about
a lesbian relationship that begins in high school was donated to several Olathe junior and high schools in 1993 by the gay activist group Project 21.
The Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Lee’s Summit districts removed or restricted the book, though Liberty school officials kept it despite challenges.
Protesting the book’s homosexual theme, parents burned a copy of it outside the Kansas City School District’s offices.
A group of students and parents sued the Olathe district for removing the book and won their case in federal court. The book was restored to the district’s school libraries.
▪ “We All Fall Down” by Robert Cormier. In 2003 a parent of a student at Baldwin High School in Baldwin City, Kansas, complained that the young adult novel about suburban unrest was inappropriate for freshman reading.
The superintendent made national headlines when he pulled the book from shelves. Students protested by handing out copies of the book at a high school football game. The next month the school board voted to put the book back on shelves as supplemental, not required, reading material.
▪ “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak. In this controversial children’s picture book, Sendak draws his child hero, Mickey, with no clothes in parts of the book. One of the book’s most interesting challenges came in 1977 when Wanda Gray, the elementary education director in the Springfield, Missouri, district, drew shorts on Mickey in the books used in kindergarten classes.
▪ “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. In 2005 a group of parents in Blue Springs challenged the Newbery Award-award winning book about a 12-year-old’s adventures in a future dystopia, calling it lewd and violent with its themes of suicide, euthanasia and infanticide. But they failed in their attempt to get the school district to remove it from the eighth-grade reading list.