A study by journalism students at the University of Alabama and The Anniston Star has revealed which books are most frequently asked to be banned in schools across the so-called Heart of Dixie. While the analysis is incomplete — some districts chose not to comply with requests for information — the findings are nevertheless disturbing, revealing that people often object to titles simply out of personal animus, even if those books have obvious intrinsic worth. (Moreover, it is highly likely that many librarians chose not to report book-ban requests, fearful of attracting unwanted attention from administrators.)
In keeping with the South's rising hostility to those members of the human species who have a uterus, one library moved to restrict access to a book that no seemingly sane person could seemingly call offensive:
Talladega hasn't had a challenge in the past three years. But in 2005, a B.B. Comer parent protested the presence of a pregnancy guide — Sheila Kitzinger's "Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth" — on library shelves....In the book challenge, the parent claimed the material showed “explicit drawings of how to make love while pregnant” and “pornographic pictures that should not be viewed by children.”
The school assembled a committee to review the book...[T]he committee agreed to keep the book, based on the reputation of its author and publisher and the committee's belief that the book did contain helpful information on the process of childbirth. Still, the committee did agree to move the book to a reference shelf, and restrict it so that only kids with parental permission could check it out.
That's a good: you wouldn't want young people to have access to information about safe sexual practices.
Other restriction requests were apparently based on the notion that nothing corrodes young minds quite so much as reading:
Librarians at Winterboro High in Alpine made a similar decision [as those in Talladega] in 2006 when a parent challenged "White Oleander," Janet Fitch's novel about a troubled young girl who is abandoned by her mother and forced into a series of foster homes.
The parent wrote that the book had too much sexual content, and included foul language that, if a child repeated it at school, would have led to the child being disciplined.
And, of course, the specter of vampires is always haunting the land. After all, True Blood takes plce in nearby Louisiana. One can never be too careful:
In 2010, Gerald Lewallen challenged the presence of two books in the "Chronicles of Vladimir Tod" series in the White Plains Middle School library [in Oxford]. Lewallen told The Star he was acting on behalf of a child who was in his care at the time.
Lewallen told The Star he was concerned about the effects the books might have on kids who are inclined toward self-cutting and other destructive behaviors. On the challenge form, he stated the book could be harmful to kids who are “thinking about cutting or hurting someone, killing someone to see what a rush they might get, kill each other, or biting.”
As the Star points out, just because a book is challenged does not mean it will be banned. However, the valuable time of school officials and librarians is nevertheless usurped explaining to parents why, say, "Captain Underpants" won't turn their children into drug-addled perverts.
Then again, consider the following:
Denizens of the Internet still poke fun at Alabama's State Textbook Committee for a 1983 proposal to ban "The Diary of Anne Frank" on the grounds that the book was "a real downer."
What more is there to say?
Photo by Boston Public Library via Flickr.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.