Category Archives: banned books
Improv kept me from posting a book last night, so this post features two banned books!
“Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance.”
– Lyndon Baines Johnson
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Thompson
I didn’t encounter this 1978 novel until 2007. I was going through a phase of reading all the “childhood classics” I’d missed when younger and checked this out from the library. I fell in love with Galadriel Hopkins a.k.a, Gilly.
Gilly Hopkins is a precocious troubled foster child. She’s rude and boisterous and most of all, racist. The treatment of blacks by Gilly is controversial. She regards persons of color as less than her, and manipulates them, until her foster mother teaches her respect for all people. Gilly’s language, swearing and taking the Lord’s name in vain, is also another reason parents object to the book. The book was even challenged as recently as September
Although Gilly is an unpleasant child, she eventually finds love and peace, and sheds her mean ways. Often, parents single the book out for its expletives, and fail to find the real meaning in the novel. Even the National Organization for Women sells the book on their website.
21 on the Most Frequently Challenged Books 1990-2000
The Anastasia series by Lois Lowry
I first read the Anastasia novels in middle school. Years later, I’ve only recently completely read the entire series. I adore the books because they’re clever reads, that don’t “talk down” to their audience, and portray real life situations (first kisses, sibling rivalry, etc) without resorting to hyperboles.
The books are about Anastasia Krupnik, and how she navigates through the teenage years. According to Wikipedia, the books are challenged due to their content. In Anastasia at this Address, the teen engaged in a letter writing spree after answering a personal. Other reasons cited include references to suicide, beer, champagne, and Playboy Magazine. It is worth noting, however, Anastasia never actually partakes in any illegal activity, and these are only casual references.
29 on the Most Frequently Challenged Books 1990-2000
The series consists of Anastasia Krupnik, Anastasia Again!, Anastasia At Your Service, Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst, Anastasia on her Own, Anastasia has the Answers, Anastasia’s Chosen Career, Anastasia at this Address and Anastasia Absolutely.
“Every burned book enlightens the world.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden
Published in 1982, Annie On My Mind was an anomaly in children’s literature. With few children’s and teen books addressing homosexuality, the story of Liza and Annie, of course, encountered many opponents, due to its “alternative lifestyle” plotline.
Number 48 on the ALA Most Challenged Book list, the narrative addresses two teen lesbians, as well as the social repercussions of such a relationship.
The book is never gratuitous, and portrays the couple tenderly, but still comes under fire. Literally. In 1993, Kansas City witnessed a public burning of the novel. The following year, ironically, brought a public performance of the novel in another Kansas town.
The author notes in an interview with The School Library Journal the covers of the novel (the most recent pictured above) reflect the shifting attitude towards homosexuality in teen literature. Now, with Rainbow Boys, Keeping You a Secret and other titles commonplace in the TeenLit aisle, Annie On My Mind still remains a staple.
The cover situation has been incredible. I take those three covers and a couple of others sometimes when I talk to kids about Annie because I think that the changes in the cover designs also reflect the changes in attitude toward homosexuality over the years…. The very first cover [illustration], which was never actually used, shows Annie and Liza on the Esplanade in Brooklyn, overlooking the harbor. Annie is wearing a dark cloak—maybe black—her back is, as I remember, to the camera. Liza is standing some distance away from her and it really looks as if Annie is going to swoop down on Liza—almost like a vampire attacking. I took one look at that and said to Margaret Ferguson, my editor, “We can’t have that [cover],” and Margaret, thank goodness, agreed.
So then came the one on the ferry—the  painting with all the orange. I think the heads are too big and I never liked the color. I like the picture on the back—the continuation of the picture on the front. I like the woman sitting on the bench—it’s a nice painting. But the kids aren’t looking at each other. They aren’t relating to each other. Then in the next one [in 1984], the cover on the first paperback, showing the kids at the Cloisters, Annie looks so much older than Liza that it looks like a teacher-student relationship. Liza has her chin in her hand, looking up at Annie, and that’s another gay stereotype—you know, the teacher-student/older-younger kind of thing. Then finally came the wonderful cover [in 1992] showing the two girls really relating to each other equally.
It is far easier to point out the opposition of the book, rather than the exact number of how many readers it helped cope with recognizing their sexuality in a positive light. The fact remains, however, Garden’s book helped put lesbian and gay relationships in the mainstream literature for youth.
“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”
Today marks the beginning of Banned Books Week! What is Banned Books Week? From the American Library Association website:
Banned Books Week emphasizes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.
The ALA website is a wealth of information regarding banned books and intellectual freedom.
I consider myself extremely lucky that my parents never questioned what I read, and allowed me to make all literary decisions for myself when younger. I was never denied a book because of its content, and I really thank them for that.
What I find interesting is that works of literature are frequently challenged for their content, whether it be sexual, language, supposed “anti-family” tactics, etc, yet Hollywood and the tabloid industry are still free to turn out immoral works scot-free.
I’m going to feature a different “banned or challenged” book I love each day this week. And of course, they’ll be children’s books.
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
#25 on the 100 Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000
The tale of young Mickey awoken in the middle of night to join a group of chefs with the preparation of a cake, was published in 1970 and is frequently challenged for the illustrations depicting Mickey nude, once he has fallen into the batter of the cake.
The nudity isn’t excessive, and Sendak notes that it was an artistic choice, for the batter would ruin Mickey’s clothes. Some view the book as too sexually explicit, and claim the milk bottle is seemingly phallic. But couldn’t one argue the same for a Coca-Cola advertisement?
Regardless of its supposed sexual undertones, In the Night Kitchen is a fun and magical romp through a dreamlike world of a little boy. The illustrations are as charming and full of whimsy as Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and the book is recommended for any Sendak fan.
Related Links and Reading
Animated version of the story (Youtube link)
San Francisco’s Metreon complex featured a Night Kitchen-themed restaurant.
“Censorship-Threat over Children’s Books”, by Mary Lou White,1974 (The Elementary School Journal