Best Loved Banned Books
In celebration of Banned Books Week, Book Walrus will be choosing one ‘banned book’ per day and explaining why it should be on your bookshelves, even though some would have it banned completely:
SATURDAY 28 SEPTEMBER, BEST LOVED BANNED BOOK #7
HIS DARK MATERIALS, by Philip Pullman
Published by Scholastic
His Dark Materials is the multi-award winning, multi-universe-crossing trilogy following the coming-of-age of two children, Lyra and Will, that takes philosophy, theology, physics, Milton’s Paradise Lost, plus a few witches and armoured polar bears in its stride. In 2001 The Amber Spyglass, the final book in the trilogy, was the first ever book from the “children’s literature” category to win the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. The books however caused extreme controversy, particularly when the film, The Golden Compass, was released. There were calls for it to be banned because of its ‘inappropriate content and subject matter’ and William A. Donahue from the Catholic League called for a boycott on religious grounds.
Pullman’s response: When told in 2008 that The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the UK) was number 2 on the list of most challenged books in 2008, Pullman’s response was “glee… Firstly, I had obviously annoyed a lot of censorious people, and secondly, any ban would provoke interested readers to move from the library, where they couldn’t get hold of my novel, to the bookshops, where they could.”
Pullman said banning a book on religious grounds was “the worst reason of the lot… Religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good.”
Book Walrus’s opinion: His Dark Materials was always going to cause controversy in the Christian world – institutional religion is harshly criticised, life after death is portrayed very differently from the Christian concept of heaven, the Authority (God) is no omnipotent Creator, and the power of organized religion to oppress and suppress is heavily criticised. But Book Walrus feels that banning one of the most imaginative, intelligent, and inspiring books ever written is a much worse act than questioning a belief system.
This book’s biggest Book Walrus fan – Rachel (http://book-walrus.com/reviewers/walrus-rachel-hamilton/)
FRIDAY 27 SEPTEMBER, BEST LOVED BANNED BOOK #6
AND TANGO MAKES THREE, written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
Published by Simon and Schuster
And Tango Makes Three is a picture book based on the true story of two male penguins at New York Central Park Zoo. Roy (surely the best name ever for a penguin) and Silo made a nest together and seemed to be trying to hatch a rock that resembled an egg, so zookeepers gave them a real egg to hatch. The book has won a number of awards, and also has the dubious honour of being the most challenged book in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010. Strangely in 2011 it dropped out of the top ten most challenged books of the year, only to appear again at number 5 in 2012. Reasons given by organisations and individuals for their requests to get it removed from library and school shelves include “anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group”.
Richardson’s response: “We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families. It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”
Book Walrus’s opinion: It seems absurd that in the 21st century a very simple sweet story about a couple of penguins can cause such controversy. In literary terms Book Walrus wouldn’t necessarily call And Tango Makes Three a classic, but it is a heartwarming story, and a useful starting point for an interesting conversation that parents can have with their children. To paraphrase Justin Richardson, reading this book is as likely to turn a child into a penguin as it is to turn them gay, and perhaps the more people that read the book, the less often that ridiculous sentence will need to be said. You can hear the book and see the lovely pictures here if you’d like to make up your own mind.
This book’s biggest Book Walrus fan – Debbie (http://book-walrus.com/reviewers/walrus-debbie-sims/) and the Walrus himself. He likes penguins.
THURSDAY 26 SEPTEMBER, BEST LOVED BANNED BOOK #5
HARRY POTTER, by J.K. Rowling
Published by: Bloomsbury
Harry Potter, as if you don’t know, is the story of a boy wizard who saves the world from the evil Lord Voldemort. The seven book series has sold well over 450 million copies worldwide, was turned into a multi-billion dollar movie franchise, and basically took over the first decade of the 21st century. However, its enormous popularity did not deter the censors. Parents in the US accused the books of promoting Satanism, and a school in Kent banned the series in 2000, the headmistress saying: “The Bible is very clear and consistent in its teachings that wizards, devils and demons exist and are very real, powerful and dangerous, and God’s people are told to have nothing to do with them.”
Rowling’s response: “A very famous writer once said, ‘A book is like a mirror. If a fool looks in, you can’t expect a genius to look out.’ People tend to find in books what they want to find. And I think my books are very moral.”
Book Walrus’s opinion: Aside from the rollicking story and irresistible characters, the Harry Potters deserve a place on people’s shelves (if there is anyone left in the world who doesn’t already have them there) because they made reading exciting. Fans, and not just crazy obsessed fans but normal people too, would camp outside bookshops on the eve of publication in order to be among the first to get the new book.
‘Pottermania’ was a fun aspect of the books, but it also had a major impact on literacy rates. Surveys showed that 84% of teachers said that Harry Potter had a positive impact on children’s reading abilities, and 67% said that Harry Potter had helped turn non-readers into readers. Now that’s magic.
This book’s biggest Book Walrus fan – Amber (http://book-walrus.com/reviewers/amber-d/)
WEDNESDAY 25 SEPTEMBER, BEST LOVED BANNED BOOK #4
CHARLOTTE’S WEB, by E.B. White
Published by: Puffin (new edition)
First published in 1952 by Harper & Brothers.
Charlotte’s Web is an award-winning novel by American author E.B. White about the friendship between a pig named Wilbur and a barn spider named Charlotte, and has appealed to children for over half a century. It has sold more than 45 million copies, been translated into 23 languages, and been adapted several times on film. So how did the recipient of the 1953 Newbery Honor end up on the frequently challenged lists? One reason is that, according to some people, talking animals are blasphemous. A parents’ group in 2006 declared ‘humans are the highest level of God’s creation and are the only creatures that can communicate vocally. Showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and disrespectful to God.’
In an extreme example of officialdom in 2003, a school in West Yorkshire banned Charlotte’s Web because they were worried Wilbur the pig might be might be offensive to Muslim students and their parents. Fortunately, Islamic leaders in the community stepped in. The Muslim Council of Britain requested an end to the ‘well-intentioned but misguided policy’ and Charlotte’s Web, Winnie the Pooh and the Three Little Pigs were restored to their rightful place on the shelves.
White’s response: Sadly, E.B. White wasn’t around to see these recent challenges, but in 1953 he wrote: “Charlotte’s Web” is a tale of the animals in my barn … When you read it, just relax. Any attempt to find allegorical meanings is bound to end disastrously, for no meanings are there. I ought to know.”
Book Walrus’s opinion: Book Walrus had a good chuckle at the challenges and believes any God would appreciate a book that demonstrates, with such beauty and magic, the qualities of love, loyalty and friendship. Also, Book Walrus would brandish his tusks to defend any book with as fantastic an opening line as: “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast”
This book’s biggest Book Walrus fan – Jodie (http://book-walrus.com/reviewers/walrus-jodie-h/)
TUESDAY 24 SEPTEMBER, BEST LOVED BANNED BOOK #3
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee
Published by: Arrow
To Kill A Mockingbird is the Pulitzer prize-winning tale of the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s, seen through the six-year-old eyes of Scout Finch. It was first banned in Hanover, Virginia, in 1966 after a parent claimed that the use of rape as a ‘plot device’ was morally wrong. Then in the 1990s school districts in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada, attempted to have the book banned because “the terminology in this novel subjects students to humiliating experiences that rob them of their self-respect and the respect of their peers.”
Lee’s Response (to the 1966 banning): “Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is ‘immoral’ has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink. I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.”
Book Walrus’s opinion: How anyone can believe that To Kill A Mockingbird can rob students of their self-respect and the respect of their peers is mind boggling. One of the most famous quotes sums up the book’s message of tolerance and understanding: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” If that’s not a call for respect then this Walrus doesn’t know what is. Also the fact that Harper Lee made a contribution towards the Hanover County School Board’s own education makes her an absolute legend.
This book’s biggest Book Walrus fan – Debbie (http://book-walrus.com/reviewers/walrus-debbie-sims/)
MONDAY 23 SEPTEMBER, BEST LOVED BANNED BOOK #2
PERSEPOLIS, by Marjane Satrapi
Published by: L’Association, then by Pantheon (US) & Vintage (film tie-in version) (first published in 2000)
Persepolis is a French language autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi depicting her childhood up to her early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. Time included the first part in its “Best Comics of 2003″ list and Newsweek ranked the book #5 on its list of the ten best fiction books of the decade. On March 14, 2013, Chicago Public Schools, the US’s third largest school district, allegedly banned Persepolis. This is being disputed by the district, but it has certainly been withdrawn from classrooms and described as “inappropriate” with reference made to “powerful images of torture in the book.”
Satrapi’s response: Satrapi criticized the district for pulling a book that has been approved for use in their schools for nearly a decade and for requiring “special training” for teachers. “For me, the worst in all of that is it’s absolutely the biggest insult to the intelligence of the teachers.”
Book Walrus’s opinion: In a world where so much hatred stems from ignorance, and where young people are frequently fed a very one-sided view of Iran by the world’s media, Satrapi’s life story creates a very different, very human picture of the country and explores dark and complex subject matters in an eye-opening and entertaining way. This is a incredible book young people should be encouraged to read, rather than discouraged from reading.
This book’s biggest Book Walrus fan – Rachel (http://book-walrus.com/reviewers/walrus-rachel-hamilton/)
SUNDAY 22 SEPTEMBER, BEST LOVED BANNED BOOK #1
THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, by Dav Pilkey
Published by: Scholastic (first published in 1997)
The most challenged book in the US in 2012, Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series has been repeatedly banned or challenged due to concerns over offensive language and charges of being “unsuited for age group.”
Pilkey’s response: “It’s pretty exciting to be on a list that frequently features Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Maya Angelou … But I worry that some parents might see this list and discourage their kids from reading [it], even though they have not had a chance to read the books themselves.”
Book Walrus’s opinion: Rude, revolting, full of bad grammar and toilet humour, you don’t have to look far to find an adult that LOATHES this book and the rest of the series. But kids just LOVE it, particularly reluctant readers. And any writer that can convince these kids to pick up a book, pass it around their friends, and re-read it until the cover falls off is okay with Book Walrus.
This book’s biggest Book Walrus fan – Dylan (http://book-walrus.com/reviewers/walrus-dylan-h/)