Articles

I Read Banned Books …

by Jillian Steinhauer on October 3, 2012

Even though Hyperallergic is primarily a blog about art and visual culture, there’s no question that we’re also super nerds who read a lot. So I felt it would be remiss if we didn’t pay at least a short tribute to Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of books and literacy and the freedom for everyone to read whatever the hell he or she wants, which unfortunately is still more of an ideal than a universal practice.

In case you’re wondering what the fuss is all about, here’s a bit of background from the website for Banned Books Week:

Hundreds of books have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States every year. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 326 in 2011. ALA estimates that 70 to 80 percent are never reported.

From the ones that are reported, the ALA has compiled top 100 banned/challenged books lists for each of the past two decades, and while I’m not the type to ban books anyway, scrolling through the lists is a seriously depressing wake-up call. Of Mice and Men and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings — really??! There aren’t a lot of so-called art books on the lists — I suspect because they’re not, you know, the most popular with kids, and banned books are all about adults telling kids what they can and can’t do. But a report from the ACLU of Texas does cite da Vinci as a concern among parents, and prisons in that state have a bad track record of banning books with any paintings of naked people.

Still, as everyone knows, pictures can make books all the more fun — and all the more controversial! So in honor of Banned Books Week, and with the help of both the ALA and a few other sources, here are some of my favorite banned books with images, mostly children’s books and graphic novels.

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

This beloved kids classic follows the adventures of a little boy, Mickey, as he floats out of his bed and into a night kitchen. It’s a lovely surrealist wonder from Sendak, and it’s included on both decade-long ALA banned books lists. (In 1990–1999, it was #21; in 2000–2009, #24.) Why? Because it includes naked images of Mickey, which is obviously not acceptable — because kids don’t see themselves or other kids naked, ever. Nope. Also, at one point Mickey gets mixed into cake batter, and while he does escape before it goes in the oven, I’d argue that there are larger health issues to worry about here than a little genitalia.

 

 

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

Here’s another one that made me want to cry out or shake somebody to wake them from their stupor. This book! It’s basically my childhood. (We also had an accompanying record to listen to the poems.) I really don’t understand what people find so wrong about this book, but according to About.com, there are “suggestive illustrations.” Also, a library apparently once claimed that the book “glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient.” This ranked as #51 on the ALA top 100 list in ’90–’99 but thankfully is gone from the ’00–’09 list.

 

 

 

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Anyone who follows the world of graphic novels knows this book — an incredible memoir about Bechdel’s father and her own coming out process. By the time Fun Home came out, in 2006, comics (in the guise of “graphic novels”) had already been accepted into the mainstream for quite some time, but this book put them even more on the map. It was nominated for and won a number of awards, and made it onto countless critic’s lists. But it was also challenged at a library in Missouri the year it was published, in 2008 it faced a protest at a college in Utah when it was assigned as required reading. Let’s hope Fun Home doesn’t make it onto the ALA top 100 list next decade around.

 

 

 

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Talk about books that put graphic novels on the literary map: this is one of the originals, some would argue the book for which the term “graphic novel” was invented. It’s also one of the most stunning and original books I’ve ever read, a two-volume work in which Spiegelman tells the story of his parents’ experiences in the Holocaust. And when you start banning (Pulitzer Prize-winning) books about the Holocaust because they’re “anti-ethnic” — well, let’s just say that’s problematic. I’m looking at you, Oregon.

 

 

 

 

Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford

Also ranking in the WTF?!?! category is the book series that I think (and hope) everyone has as much nostalgic attachment to as me: Where’s Waldo? You might have thought that looking for our good-natured friend with the glasses and pom-pom hat was a harmless exercise, but it turns out it’s also exposing children to “’inappropriate and seditious hidden imagery’ including topless sunbathers, gay lovers, characters holding up the rocker hand sign (or, as they call it- the ‘hail Satan’).” Ah yes. That must explain why all of us grew up to be topless, gay, Satan-worshipping sunbathers. In the ’90s, this was #87 on the ALA list, but like A Light in the Attic, it’s since dropped off.

 

Bonus Pick: Sex by Madonna

OK, obviously this is neither a kids’ favorite nor an award-winning graphic novel. And also somewhat obviously, this book was bound to create controversy. (In fact, it was probably partly made with that express purpose in mind.) But I couldn’t run this list without including the one coffee-table book on the ALA lists (as far as I can tell); plus, freedom to read/page through a book means even the raunchy stuff! So go get your copy on eBay, if you can afford it, and celebrate Banned Books Week with a little Sex.

 

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