Co-sponsored by the American Library Association, Banned Books Week originated as a way to raise awareness for freedom of speech and receiving information. “The bottom line is we are celebrating the freedom to read,” says Candace Morgan, American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon president and long-time librarian. “[We are] celebrating that by educating people about the fact that books do sometimes get banned and what the impact of that is.”
The ACLU works in conjunction with schools, libraries, and often librarians to protect these fundamental rights by advocating for the books that get challenged.
“I think librarians are really freedom fighters,” says Sarah Armstrong, Office Outreach Coordinator for the ACLU of Oregon. Since June of 2010, 20 books [pdf] have been challenged in Oregon. None of them were banned.
We dug through the archives of books that have been banned over the years. Here are some of the more surprising:
The Dictionary: In 1978, a Missouri library banned the American Heritage dictionary for containing 39 “objectionable” words. Similarly in 1987, an Anchorage School Board banned it for slang entries of words such as “bed,” “balls,” and “knockers.” Just last year, a California school district banned all copies of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary for containing the definition of “oral sex.”
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?: I see stupidity looking at me. Believe it or not, this children’s classic made an appearance on a banned books list in Texas. The State Board of Education mistook author Bill Martin Jr. to be the same Bill Martin who wrote Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.
A Light in the Attic: One school challenged the Shel Silverstein favorite by saying it “encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” Another school banned it because some if its poems supposedly “glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient.”
Clifford the Big Red Dog: A California school banned the bilingual edition for unspecified reasons. Muy interesante.
Where’s Waldo: In the top right corner of the beach scene spread, somewhere in between the full-armored solider in a sandcastle and the three bodybuilders in speedos, there is a woman sunning herself on a towel with the side of her left breast peeking out. You can’t really blame her considering there’s a young boy putting something cold on her back (an ice cream cone?), obviously startling her from a tanning slumber—hence the sideboob, which, by the way, is the actual size of a pinhead. Grounds for banning the book? Apparently so.
Farenheit 451: This book about banning books was actually banned during Banned Books Week. What an ironic tongue-twister.
GO, READ: See here for a list of Portland Banned Book Week events.