Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read and spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. Since its launch in 1982, the annual event has brought together the entire book community — librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, writers, journalists, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.
What's the Difference Between a Banned and a Challenged Book?
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.
Absurd Reasons to Want to Ban Books
Foley Library's Banned Books Week display for 2023 includes books that have been challenged or banned for absurd reasons. The titles listed below are part of the library's display.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PR6029.R8N49 2017
Publication Date: 2017-04-04
Reasons: Too Communist...or not Communist enough.
Under Stalin's rule, the book was banned and burned in the U.S.S.R. for its negative attitude towards communism. Ironically, in 1981 the book was challenged by parents in Jackson County, Florida, for being "pro-communist." The book portrays life in a future time when a totalitarian government watches over all citizens and directs all activities.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PS1305.A2 F5 2001
Publication Date: 2001-06-12
One administrator called the book the "most grotesque example of racism I've ever seen in my life." Published in 1884, less than twenty years after the end of the American Civil War, the book challenges ideas of racism that are still common in the United States.
In the story, the caterpillar atop the mushroom smokes a hookah and gives Alice a mushroom that makes her smaller. Alice also takes potion and eats things that change her size or perspective. In the 1960s, the hookah's presence and the body altering and allegedly mind altering mushroom led to the book being banned.
Conservative groups objected to the book, saying it indoctrinated children into accepting same-sex marriage. They called it "very misleading...a very disingenuous, inaccurate way to promote a political agenda to little kids." The book is based on the true story of two male penguins who adopted an abandoned egg at New York's Central Park Zoo in 1999.
Call Number: Foley General Collection Z658.U5B35 2017
Publication Date: 2017
Reason: Lists inappropriate books.
In 1999, the 1998 edition of this book was banned from a display at a high school in Virginia, after a parent determined that some materials listed in it were inappropriate for students. Students were not required t read or even look at the publication, nor were they required to read any of the books listed in the publication.
Some parent groups object to this children's book about two fifth graders who create an imaginary kingdom because the children do not attend church.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr; Eric Carle (Illustrator)
Call Number: Foley Main Floor Banned Books Week Display
Publication Date: 1992-04-15
Reason: Mistaken identity.
Banned in January 2010 by the Texas Board of Education because the author (Bill Martin Jr) has the same name as an obscure Marxist theorist (Bill Martin), and no one bothered to check if they were actually the same person.
NOTE: Brown Bear's Bill Martin, Jr. died in 2004, four years before the Marxist book by the other Bill Martin was first published in 2008.
The book was banned (and burned in bonfires) in Nazi Germany for being considered "too radical." The book is about a dog taken from California and thrown into Klondike life as a sled-dog where he becomes the strongest leader.
Removed from a locked reference collection at the Boulder Public Library. A librarian originally locked it away because "the book espouses a poor philosophy of life" and because Charlie has no "tremendously positive traits only an absence of negative ones."
Reason: Blasphemous talking animals...and characters that are pigs.
In 2006, parents in a Kansas school district challenged the book because "talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural."
IN 2003, a head teacher in England removed all books featuring pigs to avoid the risk of offending Muslim students. The Muslim Council of Britain called the banning "well-intentioned but misguided" and asked that the books be placed back on the shelves.
Challenged as a summer reading assignment because "it sounds like pretty explicit stuff." The book is about a Harlem high school dropout who escapes from a gang of punks into a boxing gym, where he learns that being a contender is hard and often discouraging work, but that you don't know anything until you try.
Call Number: Foley General Collection DS135.N6 F73313 1993
Publication Date: 1993-06-01
Reason: "A real downer."
Banned by the Alabama State Textbook Committee in 1983 for being "a real downer." Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank's remarkable diary has since become a world classic -- a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PS3503.R167F3 2013
Publication Date: 2012-01-10
Reasons: Firemen insulted...and the Bible gets banned and burnt.
The book is about the banning of books and their burning by firemen (who start fires rather than putting them out). In 2006, parents of a Texas high school student demanded that the novel be banned because one of the books that eventually gets banned and burned is the Bible. They also claimed that the book "insulted our firemen."
Removed from a locked reference collection at the Boulder Public Library in Colorado in 1988. The librarian who originally locked it away considered it sexist because the tree is overly compliant and giving and the boy is demanding and selfish.
Beginning in 1965, it was forbidden in the People's Republic of China to read the book in Maoist China because of its "portrayal of early Marxism." The ban was not lifted until author Theodor Seuss Geisel's death in 1991.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PN6071.F15A66 2002
Publication Date: 2002-10-17
Reason: Gives witches a bad name.
Challenged in 1992 at the Mount Diablo School District in California by two self-proclaimed witches because it teaches children that it is acceptable to kill witches and paints witches as child-eating monsters.
In 1983, this book was challenged in the Xenia, Ohio, school libraries for teaching "children to lie, spy, back-talk and curse."
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
Call Number: Foley Main Floor Banned Books Week Display
Publication Date: 1963-02-12
Reason: Encourages violence against fathers.
In 2014, a patron at the Toronto Public Library was concerned that the book "encourages children to use violence against their fathers." The patron requested that the library apologize to local fathers and pay damages resulting from the book's message.
The books in the Captain Underpants series were some of the most banned books of 2012, because they encourage children to disobey authority. In one chapter, two fourth graders refer to their principal as "that old guy" and "Mean Old Mr. Krupp."
I Spy Fun House: a Book of Picture Riddles by Jean Marzollo; Walter Wick (Photographer)
Call Number: Foley Main Floor Banned Books Week Display
Publication Date: 1993-03-01
Reason: Scary clowns.
Challenged at Gladstone Public Library in 2002 because of "scary clowns." The library retained the book anyway.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PS1017 .L5 1915
Publication Date: 2004-10-01
Reasons: Not feminist enough...and also too feminist.
Challenged for not being feminist enough. Feminist groups claim that the book "diminishes young women, panders to the 'weaker sex' mentality and fails to empower girls to succeed." Ironically, back when staunch feminist Louisa May Alcott wrote the book back in 1869, the book was considered too feminist because the women in the book were making their own choices.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PR6013.O35 L6 2013
Publication Date: 2013-05-07
Reason: Implies that man is little more than an animal.
The novel explores the tensions within human civilization between peace and war, independent thinking, and mob mentality. In 1981, a high school in North Carolina called the novel "demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal." Which, of course, is the point of the novel.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PS3572.O5S6 1994
Publication Date: 1994-02-01
Reason: Magic Fingers.
Challenged at the Owensboro, Kentucky, high school library in 1985 for various reasons, including a mention of "magic fingers" in the protagonist's motel bed. In 1958, John Joseph Houghtaling, an American entrepreneur and inventor, invented the Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed, a common feature in mid-priced hotels and motels from the 1960s to the early 1980s.
In 1971, the Illinois Police Association asked librarians to remove the book from shelves because it depicts police as pigs - although in a favorable light. Similar problems were reported in eleven other states. All of the characters in the books are animals and various characters in the story besides police officers are also pigs.
The London County Council in England banned the use of Beatrix Potter's "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" and "Benjamin Bunny" from London schools because the stories portrayed only "middle-class rabbits." Which raises the question of how, exactly, you determine the social class of rabbits.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PS3562.E353 T6 1960
Publication Date: 1961-01-01
Reason: A "filthy, trashy novel"
Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill School District in New York in 1980 as a "filthy, trashy novel." The book is about a young girl growing up in an Alabama town in the 1930s learns of injustice and violence when her father, a widowed lawyer, defends a black man falsely accused of rape.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PR2837.A2W28 1994
Publication Date: 1995-02-02
Removed from a Merrimack, New Hampshire, high school in 1996 because the cross-dressing and allusions to same-sex romance fell foul of a policy called "prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction," which means that teachers were not allowed to discuss homosexuality in the classroom.
Call Number: Foley General Collection PE1628 .W5638 1991
Publication Date: 1989-10-01
Reason: Defines obscene words.
Challenged numerous times because it defines "obscene" words. Also, in January 2010, a California school district banned the dictionary's 10th edition for its definition of oral sex. "It's just not age appropriate," a district representative said.
Reason: "On some of the pages there are dirty things."
Challenged at a Michigan public library in 1989 because "on some of the pages there are dirty things." A beach scene in the 1987 version features a woman lying on the sand with the side of her breast showing. The publisher added a bikini to later editions, including the one that Foley Library owns.
The book includes the poem "Dreadful," which contains the line "someone ate the baby." In 1993, the Central Columbia School District in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, pulled the book in case the poem would "encourage cannibalism."
Psychologists condemned the book as "too dark and frightening," accusing the author of glorifying Max's anger. In a March 1969 column for Ladies' Home Journal, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim called the book psychologically damaging for 3- and 4-year-olds. He thought the idea that a mother would deprive a child of food was an inappropriate form of punishment, and that it would traumatize young readers.
In 1986, seven families in Tennessee opposed the novel's inclusion in the public school syllabus. They argued that all witches are bad, therefore it is "theologically impossible" for good witches like Glinda the Good Witch to exist.
Reason: Blasphemous talking animals...and characters who are pigs.
In 2003, a head teacher in England removed all books featuring pigs to avoid the risk of offending Muslim students. The Muslim Council of Britain called the banning "well-intentioned but misguided" and asked that the books be placed back on the shelves. In 2006, a parent's group in Kansas wanted the book banned because they believed that talking animals are an offense to God and place animals on the same level as humans. Winnie the Pooh is a stuffed animal.
In April 2012, the Prince Rupert School District in British Columbia removed the book from schools because it violated a school ban on political messages for the line, "I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom, we too should have rights." In the midst of a labor dispute between the British Columbia Teachers' Federation and the province, the quote was deemed unsuitable. Dr. Seuss had based the power-mad Yertle the Turtle character on Adolf Hitler.