This is it, the last day of BBW2021. I hope you’ve learned something new here, or at least found a new source of information that deepens your understanding of something familiar.
Today’s link in this week honoring the Right to Read takes you to The Week, a magazine that summarizes political stories from around the world, and from a range of viewpoints. This particular article, “17 of America’s most surprising banned books“, was originally published in 2011, and then updated in 2017.
If you know Americans, you probably won’t be surprised by any book that appears on this list. And if you’ve visited the sites I linked to in my earlier posts this week, you’ve already seen some of the titles. Perhaps you’re surprised by the ruckus caused by that bottle in Little Red Riding Hood’s basket — until you remember Prohibition. And I assume the unhappy witches who wanted to ban “Hansel and Gretel” have been assuaged by Harry Potter’s popularity. The objections to a minuscule drawing of a partially nude sunbather in a Where’s Waldo book make me embarrassed for the states of Michigan and New York.
The oddest publishing commotions have involved dictionaries, which gives me an excuse to feature a dictionary as my banned-book-for-the-day. American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and Dictionary of American Slang were each at some point challenged and/or removed from school libraries (not many), starting in the 1980s. In a 2010 article on their website, OIF/ALA point out that, “If not the most insidious book to censor, [a dictionary] certainly ranks among them.”
In addition to its editorial board, American Heritage Dictionary has a Usage Panel (currently at almost 200 members, from literature, news media, education, politics, and publishing) who are polled for opinions on such issues as further vs farther, noisome vs noisy, etc. The panel provides the linguistic version of two-thumbs-up — or, in the case of the AHD, 200-thumbs-up. For example, my 1976 edition (with a 117-member Usage Panel) comments that “Awhile is not preceded by for, though the noun while can be. Each of the following is possible: stay awhile, stay for a while, stay a while (but not stay for awhile).” The Panel points out that “irregardless, a double negative, is never acceptable except when the intent is clearly humorous.”
But the bannings weren’t about esoteric issues of usage, but instead about inclusion of certain words. Specifically, sexual terms. I imagine that these days, what with cell phones and the internet, parents have bigger things to worry about. I know of no dictionary challenges after 2010, which relieves me. Now I can get back to worrying about which works of fiction are facing the firing squad.
This concludes my celebration of Banned Books Week. Thanks for coming along with me. I’ll give you one more link, to a School Library Journal article with advice for teachers and librarians about how to talk about censorship with students. The advice applies to conversations with any group of children, including one’s own.
Good luck out there, and keep reading!