Someone recently told me that Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree had made it to the ever-growing list of censored books in America. This was one of my all-time favorite books when I was a child and I refused to believe something so innocent could be banned. Looked it up and low and behold, some asshole deemed it sexist because the boy keeps taking from the tree and never gives anything back. My mind blown, I did some more research and was repeatedly shocked at the books I kept finding on either “banned” or “challenged” lists. I wanted to know where these decisions were coming from and how. On the American Library Association’s website, they offer just that. I had originally imagined a specific organization(s) that was out to get all of these classics taken out of schools. According to ALA, however, it all starts with a formal, written complaint that is filed within a library or school and requests that a certain book be removed.The report goes directly to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, where it is entered into a database along with several hundred other complaints, and then sifted through and curated by the OIF staff, who then formulate the many “top ten” or “top 25” or “top whatever” lists of challenged books based upon what they find in the database. Their main goal is to promote awareness of this censorship among the public and how it affects schools and libraries alike. Statistics show that it is generally parents who make the most objections, with schools and school libraries being a close second. They engage in a bit of their own curating, taking it upon themselves to determine what is and is not appropriate. According to ALA, in the last decade, the most common accusations made have been that the books are “sexually explicit,” contain “offensive language,” have material “unsuitable for age group,” are “violent,” contain “homosexuality,” and are sac-religious or “anti-family.”
The best part of doing this research was discovering that experts and curators of the Library of Congress decided to open a new exhibit in June of 2012 called “Books That Shaped America,” in which the public is welcome to come and celebrate these books. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington stated that they “hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage.” Well, thirty of the eighty-eight “books that shaped America” are on the Banned Books List. Billington acknowledges this, but adds that “Nevertheless, they shaped American’s views of their world and the world’s views of America.” Right on.