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Banned Books Week spotlights battle over censorship

September 27, 1999
Web posted at: 5:30 PM EDT (2130 GMT)

By Jamie Allen
CNN Interactive Senior Writer

(CNN) -- Judith Krug says she isn't surprised that people still try to ban books from library shelves. But sometimes she is amused by certain attempts.

"We've had complaints about 'The Diary of Anne Frank,'" she says, "because it was, and I quote, 'a real downer.' Well yeah, I guess the Holocaust was a real downer.

"But I think what Anne Frank had to say is extremely important in terms of teaching children what went on in that environment, and providing them with a historical document that still has some validity today."

As director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, a censorship watchdog of the American Library Association, Krug wants to make sure books like "Anne Frank" avoid censorship, and that challenges to books are recorded and publicized.

"The list is comprised of the who's who and what's what of 20th century American literature."
-- Judith Krug, Office for Intellectual Freedom

Do you think it's OK to ban a how-to book on bombs, or creating a chemical weapon?

Yes, the information could get into the wrong hands
No, censorship has a habit of spreading
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The highmark of the OIF's efforts comes once a year during Banned Books Week. This year it runs from September 25 to October 2, with the theme "Free People Read Freely."

"The purpose is to bring to the attention of the American public the fact that our First Amendment rights, particularly freedom of speech and freedom of the press, are very fragile," Krug says. "In order to protect them you have to use them.

"One of the ways that you can use them is to read a book that has been challenged or banned from schools," she says. "And the way we make this available to is to provide a list of those materials that in the recent past have been the subject of challenges and bannings."

And the most frequently challenged ...

This year's list of books most often challenged includes titles like "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou.

Most Frequently Challenged Authors
    Robert Cormier
    Lois Lowry
    John Steinbeck
    R.L. Stine
    Maya Angelou
    Judy Blume
    Robie Harris
    James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
    Katherine Paterson

Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1999
    1. 'Alice Series,' Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    2. 'Blubber,' by Judy Blume
    3. 'The Color Purple,' by Alice Walker
    4. 'The Handmaid's Tale,' by Margaret Atwood
    5. 'My Brother Sam Is Dead,' by James Lincoln Collier
    6. 'The Chocolate War,' by Robert Cormier
    7. 'Heather Has Two Mommies,' by Leslea Newman
    8. 'Daddy's Roommate,' by Michael Willhoite
    9. 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,' by Maya Angelou
    10. 'Of Mice and Men,' by John Steinbeck

"These are not materials that are trashy or sleazy," Krug says. "The list is comprised of the who's who and what's what of 20th century American literature. You're talking about ... the kinds of materials that educated people should read and individuals should have access to in order to decide whether they want to read them or not."

Also on the list this year are books with homosexual themes: "Heather Has Two Mommies," by Leslea Newman, and "Daddy's Roommate," by Michael Willhoite.

Krug says challenges also come from parents who want their children to avoid certain subjects.

"Most people who try to remove books really are well-meaning and they're very concerned about the information that's being made available to children and young people," Krug says. "But they're also smart enough to realize that their views of the world, their value systems, are going to be much safer and more readily believed if there's no opposition to them."

Blume faces fear

Judy Blume's "Blubber," a book about a school girl who's teased for being overweight, is listed at No. 2 on this year's OIF "challenged" list. Blume, who has also written books on blossoming sexuality, says she has the distinction of being one of the most censored authors in America. In an online chat on Monday, Blume talked about the effects of censorship.

"One of my concerns is that writers will begin to feel the censor on their backs, and we won't get their very best," Blume says. "Instead their fear, or the fear imposed by the publisher, will limit them. When I lock myself up to write, I cannot allow myself to think about the censor, or the reviewer, or anyone but my characters and their story."

Blume says she doesn't even censor what her children read.

"Not even when my daughter took 'Portnoy's Complaint' off the shelf," Blume says.

When she's not writing books, Blume is an active spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Censorship. To benefit the organization, she asked prominent authors whose writing has been censored or challenged to contribute an original story to a new collection titled "Places I Never Meant To Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers."

It includes work by David Klass, Norma Klein, Julius Lester, Chris Lynch, Harry Mazer, Norma Fox Mazer, Walter Dean Myers, Katherine Paterson, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Rachel Vail, Jacqueline Woodson and Paul Zindel.

"All of our royalties from the sale of the book go to NCAC," says Blume. "Every dollar helps them fight censorship and helps the teachers and students and librarians who are under fire."

'A really sexy piece of work'

Is there a legitimate reason for banning a book?
Tell it to the board!

Meanwhile, Krug is busy dealing with the flood of calls that come with Banned Books Week. Some are from reporters; others are from people challenging certain books, in some cases without reading them.

For instance, one school board, kept anonymous by the OIF, recently challenged a book titled "Making It with Mademoiselle." Krug investigated.

"They wanted that out because it sounds like a really sexy piece of work," she says. "It turns out it's a book of sewing patterns from 'Mademoiselle' magazine."

But the challenge was filed into the OIF's database. Perhaps if more people complain about the title, it will show up on next year's list.

Krug knows that freedom of speech allows for freedom to challenge. And vice versa.

"What is one person's reason for banning a book," she says, "is someone else's reason not only to read the book, but to fight to keep it on the shelves."

'Places I Never Meant to Be': Edited by Judy Blume
September 27, 1999
Minnesota parents want to ice the 'Goosebumps' book series
January 24, 1997

American Library Association
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