It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Banned Books Week

Did you know there’s a “Banned Books Week”? I only heard of it today, at the very end of the week, when I checked out Solo Mom’s blog from whom I’m now stealing just about her entire post, as follows:

My favourite Stephen King quotation is about banned books. His advice is that if someone tells you can’t read something, run, don’t walk, to your local library and find out for yourself what all the fuss is about. (Isn’t that cool? It’s what I’ve pretty much always done – unless I’ve read the book already!)

In honour of Banned Books Week, I’m offering a meme of sorts. Below is the ALA list of the 100 most frequently challenged books, 1990-2000. Bold the ones you’ve read. And then run, don’t walk, to your local library.

Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
Forever by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Sex by Madonna
Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
The Goats by Brock Cole
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Blubber by Judy Blume
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Final Exit by Derek Humphry
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
Deenie by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
Cujo by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Fade by Robert Cormier
Guess What? by Mem Fox
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Jack by A.M. Homes
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
Carrie by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts by Howard Stern
Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education by Jenny Davis
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

This is Mary again. You know, some of those, I can see who might be offended, and fear their influence on an unthinking public. Some deal with s-e-x in a reasoning and measured way, and, even more shockingly, are aimed at young teens, and thus scare the prudish spitless. Some (like the Goosebumps series, of which I’ve suffered through a couple) don’t deserve even the negative attention of the would-be banners. Dreck, utter dreck. But others? Who could object to Anastasia Krupnik? Bright, kind, funny Anastasia? Bridge to Terabithia? A Wrinkle in Time? Great books, teaching compassion, kindness, gentleness, thoughfulness – universal values, I would like to think. I wish.

© 2006, Mary P

September 30, 2006 - Posted by | books


  1. yeah, i’ve been struggling through shock and sadness all week, just trying to understand why some people would not want these books available to their children. i learned so much about compassion, tolerance, courage, and human nature from To Kill a Mockingbird. sometimes, even when we “know” things already (like that racism is bad and hurts people), it takes a great book to make us revisit those ideas and really *get it*. there are a lot of books on that list that helped me really *get it*… about a lot of things.

    Comment by kari | September 30, 2006 | Reply

  2. I know, I can’t believe some of the ones that made the list. And I think Stephen King is right – if you hear something is banned, run right out and find out why!

    Comment by Kristen | September 30, 2006 | Reply

  3. It’s interesting to me that quite a few of these once banned books are now on the required readings lists and taught in public schools. To Kill a Mockingbird, Flowers for Algernon, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Catcher in the Rye, and Of Mice and Men were all books that we studied in high school. They were some of the richest books we looked at, and I can’t think but how deprived we would have been if they were banned. The Catcher in the Rye and Flowers for Algernon remain two of my very favourite books.

    Comment by Haley | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  4. I posted about it on both blogs too and sent the link to Blogging Baby.

    Another meme challenged readers to pick a book from the list and immediately begin reading it.

    I don’t do as much reading as I once did but if I did, I’d start with the ALA list.

    What I found interesting about the BB discussion was the agreement among conservatives and liberals. The conservatives were amazed to find some of their favorite books listed.

    All depends whose ox is gored I guess.

    Comment by Granny | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  5. quick response to what haley said: i’m teaching Catcher in the Rye to my english class in the spring, and of their optional summer reading (they had to choose one book from a list of 18), five books are on this list. i think a lot of these books deal with important issues, and i’m glad to be teaching them to my high school students.

    Comment by kari | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  6. wow, I read a good 20 of those in highschool. the Robert Cormier ones were some of my favs. Possibly because they are a bit twisted. Some of those I kinda understand… “the new joy of gay sex” and “sex by madonna” are a touch explicit.

    I loved my highschool Lit teacher, we HAD to read at least one banned book.

    Comment by Joel S | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  7. Wow.

    There are quite a few in this list that were among my favorites as a child/teen/young adult (does that make me an old adult now?). I’d forgotten about them:

    Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?
    Blubber (Banned? REALLY?)
    A Wrinkle in Time
    The Chocolate Wars
    Flowers for Algernon

    I’m planning on a library trip Tuesday. May have to re-read some, and will check out a few that I haven’t read before. Thanks for this!

    Comment by Andie D. | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  8. I think at least half my class library is on that list. Must mean I made wise choices!

    Comment by McSwain | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  9. Kari: So often we don’t truly understand something until we’ve experienced it. Perhaps we never do, until we’ve experienced it. Immersing yourself in a well-read book is a way of experiencing something that may never come your way in real life. People who boast that they “never read fiction” miss the power of fiction – and reveal something lacking in themselves, I think.

    Kristen: It’s all about informed consent. Perhaps I would find some of those books offensive. I know I loathe the Goosebumps books – such low expectations of our children are displayed by such drivel. How do I know? I’ve read a few! Some adult books I’ve started but just couldn’t finish, because they horrified me for one reason or another. Some, like Romeo Dallaire’s “Shake Hands with the Devil”, I never did read. I knew it’d give me nightmares, haunt me for weeks. Just because a book is disturbing, however, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Sometimes the most powerfully good books are hard, disturbing reads. (Like medicine, perhaps!)

    Though I haven’t read one yet, I suspect that there probably are books out there I would feel society would be better off without: hate literature springs to mind, and violent pornography. But none of the books on this list come anywhere near that kind of evil. None of the books on this list are “evil” at all.

    Nor would I object to certain books being kept out of schools (not libraries, just schools) – but not because of moral or social concerns, but because schools should be teaching a higher level of literary achievement. (Just like, if my kids want junk food, they can take their allowance to the corner store, but I’m not going to serve it for dinner.)

    Haley: I thought that when I read the list, too. I read a bunch of those in high school as well. (Including “Flowers for Algernon” – twenty-five years before you!) However, it might well be exactly because they’ve been on school curricula that they’re on this would-be banning list. A certain kind of parent reads the book (or the dust jacket) and is up in arms, trying to start a movement to ban it, to “protect our children from this filth”. I know that’s happened to “Catcher in the Rye”, many years ago.

    Granny: “Whose ox is gored” – exactly! Blubber – fat people; To Kill a Mockingbird – perhaps black people would be uncomfortable, or perhaps white racists; the books with sexual content – social conservatives; Goosebumps – people like me, except with less of an aversion to book-banning. [grin] That’s all clear enough. But some of those books, I just don’t get who or what is under attack. At all.

    Kari: Well, and these books aren’t banned – it’s just that they’re the ones most often called to be banned. There are people out there who don’t want people to think, just to do as they’re told. Or maybe, all think the same thoughts.

    Joel: Well, now I know which one I’ll start with! Off to the library to get “The Chocolate Wars.” Thanks for the (indirect) recommendation.

    But I wonder: why is “a bit twisted” all right, but “explicit sex” perhaps not? As long as the sex is between consenting adults, not forcibly violent or degrading, what’s the harm? Remember, this list is not just about schools: the would-be book-banners don’t even want them sold in bookstores. Of course, literature on this topic needs to be age-appropriate: you’re probably going to keep “The Joy of Gay Sex” from your 9-year-old, but your 19-year-old, who has just come out? Of course he should have access to it.

    (I hope you don’t feel lectured, Joel. You just got me to thinking, and I rambled a bit!)

    Andie D: Strange, isn’t it? Go out and read an Anastasia Krupnik book, and see if you can find anything – anything – not to like in those tales. They are so wholesome, you could eat them with your oatmeal for breakfast. And “A Wrinkle in Time” – and all the other terrific L’Engle books about the Murray family. Their values are SO solid and wholesome. Bizarre to me. (Blubber, I’d guess, because it shows “fat-ism”.)

    McSwain: Way to go, McS! No suprises that you’d be a teacher who’d encourage her students to think.

    Comment by Mary P. | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  10. I am still trying to figure out why Julie of the Wolves was listed…encourages teens to runaway from abusive arranged marriages? And live with wolves?

    That book changed reading for me completely.


    And where is “Then Again maybe I won’t”?
    All are GREAT books, but I find it very suspicious that her great books for teen girls get listed.

    Comment by Heather | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  11. Well, thank you for this post. I am going to print it and use it as my reading list for 2006-2007.

    Comment by Nanny Louise | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  12. I have really been enjoying your blog!
    I used to work in a Big Box Book Store, and Banned Book Week was celebrated every year through mass mareting.
    It drives me batty the way some people continuously struggle to control the minds of others. Geez, just mind your own business. Some of us like a good book now and then.
    Thanks for posting this list to your blog, it’s a great place to start a fall-winter reading list.

    Comment by Erin | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  13. I’ve read a fair number, and have to agree with you Mary – I don’t like it when Mstr A brings drivel home from school, because how will he learn to appreciate the wonder of literature when he is given “he said, they said, we said” to read all the time?

    BUT I do not approve of banning books. Not ever. I am sure there are books out there that are “evil” and against the good of society, although I’ve personally never come across them. Maybe because I was taught to chose my reading matter to fit with my mood, knowledge & view of the world. Not that I should never read outside of those, but that I should read to expand them within reason. Just to say “I can’t read that because it mentions X” is the same as any fundementalist dogma – it is stiffling our children & our society. We should be able to trust them to read whatever, and make their own decisions!

    I hope that made sense. I think it sounds a bit garbled, but I know what I mean:-)

    Now I’m off to find out a) which books actually have been banned, and b) what the UK list looks like, as A fair number of those are complete unknowns to me:-)

    Comment by Juggling Mother | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  14. hmmmm, as far as I can tell, the last time the UK tried (and failed) to ban a book was back in 1960 with Lady Chatterly’s Lover. A bit of an embarressment even then from reading the papers:-)

    Although individual schools occasionally ban books for ridiculous reasons, and I certainly remember a spate of loacal authority PC bans (The next door council banned singing Baa Baa Black Sheep for a term until it was lambasted by everyone!), I don’t think we even have an equivilent concept as the ASA book challenge. Especially as anyone has the right to ask their public library to order any book for them, & the British Library & Bodlian Library automatically get a copy of any publication in English!

    So explain this to me: How come Where’s Waldo has been challenged? And surely Sex by Madonna & The New Joy of Gay Sex are pretty self explanitory from their titles – you’re not going to get them out thinking they’re nice clean romances & be surprised by the explicit content surely? so where those challenges based on the belief that the American public are unable to read/look at those pictures without becomming “perv’s”? Are Americns really that easy to pervert?

    Comment by Juggling Mother | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  15. From what I remember from past years, this list of books is not necessarily books that people have tried to ban across-the-board – several of these at least were challenged in a specific context, e.g. people who didn’t want them in their elementary school library or somesuch. While I am still uncomfortable at the idea of banning books, the fact that a person might object to Goosebumps in, say, a first-grade classroom does change the nature of my reaction (that is a made up example, but “unsuited to age group” is one of the top three reasons for banning). The inclusion of these examples with others makes me a touch uncomfortable, but it’s hard to untangle the cases where I agree with the challenge and those I don’t (I’m happy to provide “It’s perfectly normal” to kids with appropriate guidance – but I’m not sure I want my hypothetical 5 yr old picking it up at school).

    Furthermore, I think it’s tricky a tricky line to toe – we expect teachers and librarians to pick age-appropriate books for kids in schools, how can we call it censorship when parents advocate for what they see as simply an extention of what the librarians do?

    Frankly, as a society we are very unsure about how we introduce tough themes to our children. Until we have a clearer (global) understanding of how to do so, these kinds of challenges will occur. My personal opinion is that after a certain age (12? 15?) kids should have access to anything they chose to subject themselves to, but before then we do exercise judgement and I think that’s ok.

    Sorry for the long post Mary! Hope I’m clear(ish).

    Comment by parodie | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  16. I love that you posted this.
    Notice how many are kids’ and teens’ books? Yeah.

    Comment by kittenpie | October 1, 2006 | Reply

  17. Oh my gosh — my son just got the first book, Scary Stories, to read during our campout. I didn’t find it offensive, in fact, there is hardly any violence at all. It’s mostly left to the imagination.

    Comment by Ex-playgroup mommy | October 3, 2006 | Reply

  18. I’ve read and loved gobs of books on that list. I can’t even figure out why most of them would be scandalous. In the night kitchen? For real? Why? Because you can see a little penis? People are freaking insane. If they don’t want to read something, they shouldn’t.

    Comment by kate | October 16, 2006 | Reply

  19. HI,
    I’m a student in a 9th grade honors English class and we have a project to read one of these books and do a project relating to it. I chose The Dead Zone by Stephen King. I found it interesting the number of childrent’s books on the list as well. I’ll also mention that I’m posting on blogger due to my honors English class’ use of blogs. If you want to check our blog it’s

    Comment by Lane C. | November 5, 2006 | Reply

  20. When someone writes an piece of writing he/she retains the idea of a user in his/her mind that how a user
    can understand it. Therefore that’s why this piece of writing is perfect. Thanks!

    Comment by organic marijuana seeds | September 20, 2012 | Reply

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