It’s Banned Books Week, everyone! So go to your library and hug the printed word, embrace thought-provoking prose, enjoy that which others have said you shouldn’t, and lovingly caress your copy of…Where’s Waldo?
When you think of banned books, a few controversial classics come to mind: Lolita, for example, or provocative new fiction like Fifty Shades of Grey. But there are gaggles of innocuous texts that have been de-shelved for offending the wrong people, or at the very least have had their honor impugned. Here are some of the scratch-your-head harmless-seeming books that have found themselves on the wrong side of the censor’s bar. (But don’t take it from me: I read a lot of Laurie Halse Anderson as a teenager.)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey
Pilkey’s pre-shrunk cotton crusader topped the American Library Association’s list of the most challenged books for its offensive language and unsuitability for its age group. But there’s a flaw in the reasoning here: namely, the assumption that there is an age group for which an unwittingly undressed superhero/school principal is suited. Maybe the series would have just flown under the radar, allowing books dealing with darker themes to take its coveted spot of loathing, if it weren’t for nefarious foes like Tippy Tinkletrousers. I guess the adage is true, “You can lead grownups to a book, but you can’t make them accept the Turbo Toilet 2000 as appropriate literature.”
Where’s Waldo?, by Martin Handford
Giant game of striped geek hide-and-seek or subversive pictorial mayhem? BOTH. In what appears to be the most harmless set of printed pages this side of Beatrix Potter, there lurks a villain. Enemy, thy name is nipple. Yes, somewhere in the beach scene, amidst sandy revelry including an incredibly unsuccessful human pyramid, a knight in full armor and misshapen butts as far as the eye can see, there is a woman sunning herself topless. You can see either her nipple or an outrageously oversized grain of sand. Well, maybe you can see it; I can’t even find Wizard Whitebeard.
A Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The first outing of Doyle’s consulting detective and his doctor friend got the boot from a Virginia school district’s sixth-grade reading list in 2011 because of a complaint that it depicted Mormonism in an overtly negative light. But at least it wasn’t because of John Watson’s manyfold ejaculations (exclamations!) throughout the canon.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer
Now a movie with Tom Hanks and thus mind-boggling to consider controversial, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the endearing, inspiring, and raw story of a young boy dealing with his father’s death in the World Trade Center on 9/11. It was challenged in a Washington school district in 2010 for, among other things, its depictions of violence.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin Jr.
Someone should have checked their pic-a-nic basket a little more thoroughly before committing such an unbearable mistake. The Texas State Board of Education banned the adorable children’s book under the mistaken assumption that its author was the same Bill Martin who authored Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation—probably judging solely by Eric Carle’s devious cover art, of Ursa Major Threat to Freedom.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is a perfunctory entry on any WTF list of banned books, because it’s proof the epidemic of irony is not yet universal. Bradbury’s tale of a world in which books are outlawed because they foster independent thought has been struck from required-reading lists for various crimes like using salty language, depicting the burning of a Bible, and quite possibly encouraging independent thought.