April 16, 2009

Newseum Recognizes Banned Books

WASHINGTON — At the Banned Books Nook during the Newseum’s April 11 anniversary celebration, visitors of all ages were shocked to see many of their literary favorites on the list of books being challenged or banned:

  • "Charlotte’s Web," by E.B. White.
  • "Where The Wild Things Are," by Maurice Sendak.
  • "Little House on the Prairie," by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • "Harriet the Spy," by Louise Fitzhugh.
  • "Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret," by Judy Blume.
  • "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry," by Mildred B. Taylor.

The reasons for the bans are countless.

"Charlotte’s Web," the story of a pig that befriends a remarkably talented spider, was challenged for its "unnatural" depiction of talking animals.

"Harriet the Spy," the story about a young girl so determined to become a famous writer that she writes down everything she sees, was challenged because it allegedly teaches children to lie, spy on others, curse and talk back to adults.

Opponents of "Where the Wild Things Are," winner of the 1964 Caldecott Medal for the Most Distinguished Picture Book of the Year, argued that it contained disturbing elements, such as the supernatural and witchcraft.

In fact, several children’s books — including Tomie dePaola’s "Strega Nona" and J.K. Rowling’s best-selling "Harry Potter" series — have been banned or challenged for depicting witchcraft.

The tradition of banning books dates back to the 1550s, when Pope Paul IV created the Index Librorium Prohibitorium (List of Prohibited Books) to protect Roman Catholics from reading immoral material.

In modern times, school and public libraries often deal with complaints — usually from parents — asking that books be removed from shelves. Coming-of-age novels, loaded with their share of teenage angst, have not escaped criticism.

"Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret" was challenged for its candid discussions about sex and use of profanity. The acclaimed "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" has attracted frequent critics for its alleged racist material and offensive language.

"We created this activity in hopes of opening dialogue between parents and children on the topic of book banning," said Barbara McCormack, Newseum senior education manager. "The books children read should be a decision made by the family, not others."

She added, "Book banning impacts all generations’ First Amendment rights and above all else, their freedom to read."

Book censorship and other First Amendment issues are discussed in the Newseum’s Cox Enterprises First Amendment Gallery.

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