Missouri librarians latest to discover: Banning makes books popular
Banned Books Week 2002
By The Associated Press
Since Webb City, Mo.'s school library banned three books in the award-winning Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, patrons can't find them on the public library's shelves either.
That's because the decision to ban the books, which deal with an adolescent girl's development, only made them popular with readers in this southwest Missouri town.
"It's been on the hold list since the challenge," said Sue Oliveira, the public librarian. "The surest way to get everyone to read a book is to ban it."
Some critics contend that the series, in which the main character befriends a girl being bullied in the restroom, promotes homosexuality. Others say some issues discussed in the books such as menstruation, puberty and sex are best left to parents.
At a school board meeting on Aug. 13, one man called relationships in the books "an abomination."
The board responded by voting to remove three of the books, which had been available for checkout by fifth and sixth graders. Three other titles were restricted to sixth graders with parents' permission.
The titles removed were Achingly Alice, Alice in Lace and The Grooming of Alice.
Joey Davis, state director of Concerned Women for America, said she had not read the books but supported parents' efforts to control what their children read.
"It's not about banning books; it's about choosing what's best for our children," Davis said. "If they are teaching tolerance or acceptance of behaviors that are harmful, then it's wrong."
Those who seek to ban books "miss the point so much," said Naylor, who works in Washington.
"I get letters from kids about book banning that say, 'Our parents have no idea what we think about. They still look at me as an innocent little girl or an innocent little guy.' "
Naylor said she tries to incorporate children's concerns into the books.
"I believe in honesty and telling kids what they need to know (about) what they ask," she said. "I'm going to keep on doing that."
The Alice series ranked seventh on the list of most-challenged books in 2001, according to the American Library Organization.
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series headed the list. A grandmother from Springfield attempted to have the Potter books banned in school libraries there because she felt they taught witchcraft.
Oliveira had said that if the Alice books were checked back into the Webb City Public Library in time, she would use them in a display for Banned Books Week, which runs Sept. 21-28.
The annual event is spearheaded by the American Library Association. This year's theme is "Let Freedom Read: Read a Banned Book."
Meanwhile, there were 218 challenges to remove 134 books from school libraries across Texas last year, according to an annual report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
The Harry Potter series of books about a boy wizard topped most of the lists. The Harry Potter books were challenged 71 times in 21 different school districts. All the challenges, however, were rejected.
Of the 218 challenges, 38 books were banned; 57 had their use or access restricted; 22 remained, but students could choose alternatives; 16 are awaiting final decision on their status; and 85 were retained without restriction.
"What we find alarming is that we are finding an increase of challenges and an even more intensified increase of certain types of challenges," said Will Harrell, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, which prepared the report titled "Free People Read Freely."
Challenges also were made to the Bible and Webster's Dictionary. Other works challenged include Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Harrell said the highest number of challenges were based on mystical and pagan references in books. A third of all challenges were based on those concerns.
"That suggests to us a movement that is religiously based that is targeting schools to influence," he told the Houston Chronicle for its Sept. 20 editions.
While the number of challenges increased 50% last year, compared to 141 in the 1997-98 school year, the first year of the survey, the percentage of books banned dropped, Harrell said.
Fifty-five books were banned from school libraries in 1997-98 compared to 38 in 2001-02.
The single most banned book last year was Taming the Star Runner, by S.E. Hinton, a Tulsa, Okla., writer known for her books about young adults.
The book was banned at the Lamar, Ector County (Odessa) and Cherokee school districts for its use of profanity or inappropriate language. The Ector County school district reported the most challenges among school districts with 10.
Vidor Independent School District topped the list for banning the most books among school districts in the state.
Books by well-known authors such as Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Judy Blume also were banned in some school districts. Three of King's books and two of Blume's books made this year's banned list.
At the Fort Bend Independent School District in Sugar Land, four books were challenged at the George H. Bush High School library because their subject matter dealt with homosexuality. All were retained without restriction.
Harrell said state education officials should implement a uniform system for the process of challenging and removal of books in school libraries. Currently, the banning of books is at the discretion of individual school districts.
Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman, said state education officials in the mid-'90s moved toward giving local school districts greater control and that there currently are no plans to set state guidelines for the removal of books.
For the past six years, the ACLU of Texas has submitted open-records requests to all school districts and charter schools in the state for the number of challenges and books banned.
The report is co-sponsored by the Texas Library Association.
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