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Where are the Jews on the Banned Books List?

Only one Jewish author on American Library Association annual list

Marjorie Ingall
April 15, 2015

On Monday, the American Library Association released its annual list of the most frequently banned and challenged books in libraries. And I have to say I’m disappointed. Only one of the books, It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris, was written by a Jew. (Robie’s book makes the list because of nudity, child pornography, and sexual education, what with it being a sex education book, which means it should be thrown in a ravine.)

And she’s the only Jew on the list? Either we’re falling down on the job and writing way too namby-pamby stuff these days or would-be censors are totally anti-Semitic and I’m calling the ADL right now. Either way, it’s a shonda for the goyim. Back in 1994, they were banning and challenging and censoring us right and left!

Before I continue ranting, let’s clarify terms: “Banned” means a book was removed from a library; “challenged” means that someone filed a formal complaint requesting a book’s removal; censoring is what a librarian did to Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen in 1971, when she carefully diapered the naked boy baby with white tempera paint. (Other copies have covered Mickey’s tiny offending schlong with Wite-Out, marker, pen, and slips of paper; Sendak himself reportedly called the paper panties “downright kinky.”)

In the Night Kitchen last made the list in 2004. This year’s big winner (loser), however, was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (reasons: anti-family, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, unsuited for age group, “depictions of bullying,” and more!). Needless to say it is a brilliant book, even though it was not written by a Jew. It won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for 2007, deservedly.

The other eight most commonly challenged titles this year were Persepolis, about growing up during the Iranian Islamic revolution (why? “depiction of gambling,” “political viewpoint,” etc.); And Tango Makes Three (reasons: GAY PENGUINS GAY PENGUINS GAY PENGUINS); The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, “contains controversial issues”); the graphic novel Saga, deemed “anti-family” even though it is about a family, plus it contains nudity (to be precise, breastfeeding, ew, everyone knows breasts are only ornamental), is “unsuited for age group” and more; The Kite Runner (reasons: offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence); my daughter’s beloved The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group); A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard (reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group, because what kind of whore gets herself kidnapped and sexually abused and has the temerity to survive?) Finally, there’s Raina Telgemeier’s Drama, a charming little graphic novel about a high school drama club, somehow deemed “sexually explicit” even though there is no sex in it, but hey, there are two gay boys, something that has never happened in a high school drama club, ever.)

The ALA has been compiling its 10-most-common list since 2001. In 1994, the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, and National Association of College Stores collaborated on a list of books banned or challenged between March 1994 and March 1995. And 20 years ago, according to this group’s rubric, we Jews did way better in terms of making censorious right-wingers foam at the mouth.

To wit (and alphabetically): Judy Blume’s Forever was removed from an IA high school library for failing to “promote abstinence and monogamous relationships” as well as because it “lacks any aesthetic, literary or social value.” A Leo Bronstein biography of El Greco was removed from a school library in AZ because parents objected to nudity and “pornographic,” “perverted,” and “morbid” themes. Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People was challenged in WA high schools because of profanity, violence, and sexuality. Norma Klein’s Just Good Friends was challenged in a CT middle school for being “nothing more than pornographic smut.” Ellen Levine’s I Hate English was challenged by a Queens school board because “[T]hey should just learn English and don’t complain about it.” Leslea Newman was challenged multiple times, at public libraries in OH and AZ and elsewhere, for Gloria Goes to Gay Pride and Heather Has Two Mommies, what with her “skillful presentation to the young child about lesbianism/homosexuality.” (Fab recruitment skills, Leslea! Enjoy your toaster!) Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and its sequels were removed from Vancouver, WA school libraries, and challenged but retained in a Montana school library. Why? Because these books are “far beyond other scary books,” and also would give kids “an unrealistic view of death.” (I don’t know what that means either.) Sendak’s little naked scamp was challenged in Texas (“it pictured his private area”). A patron at the St. Joseph, MO public library took out Charles Silverstein’s The New Joy of Gay Sex and refused to return it, “submitting instead a petition with 700 signatures calling for its permanent removal.” (Gay sex should be joyless, duh.) Howard Stern’s Private Parts was challenged in TX, and the librarian who fought to keep it was deemed “too liberal” and forced to resign. An Alabama District Attorney also called Stern’s book “obscene” and threatened to prosecute the library for circulating it. And finally, R.L. Stine’s The Haunted Mask was challenged in a MI elementary school because a parent deemed it “satanic.”

See? As I’ve noted in the past, we People of the Book have an illustrious history of getting banned, challenged and censored. I don’t know why we’ve gotten soft, but this cannot stand. Yalla, people! Write something to warrant all this annoying anti-Semitism we have to deal with!

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.