Thursday, October 1, 2009

National Book Banning Week

Hello Gentle Readers. In honor of ALA's National Book Banning Week, The Daily Banning invites you to leave a comment about your favorite banned book. Tell us what you're reading to fight the power.

Illustration by Krieg Barrie and used without permission. Don't sue me, I have no money.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

No. 19: Sex by Madonna

In the words of the immortal Salt 'N' Pepa, "Let's talk about sex, baby, Let's talk about you and me, Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be..." Ah yes, Gentle Readers, we come to number 19 on our banning list, Sex by Madonna. I only "read" this book once in 1992, right when it was first released. At the risk of spoiling the plot for you, it is full of pictures of naked Madonna. The main thing that stuck with me other than Madonna's desperate need to be Marilyn Monroe, was a weird S&M attachment that one of the men had on his shoe. I still don't know what it was and have lived a long and happy life in my ignorance. (In other words, Gentle Readers, if you know what that crazy shoe thing was, do not tell me.)

Huh. That's kind of all I have to say about naked Madonna.

This book was banned because it is about Madonna's sexual fantasies, which seem to involve her being all kinds of naked with lots of other people. She also defied her would-be original publishers by posing naked with a cross (which they asked her not to do) and with a dog (which they also asked her not to do). Before it's release, she issued some press statements about the book's shocking content because... Now, here's the thing... and pay attention censors because this is not going to change... Madonna is brilliant. Seriously, the woman is crazy smart. She also knows way more about making money than you and me. All the fervor and controversy surrounding the book's release only spurred it to higher sales making her even richer than she already was. When you think about banning Madonna, picture Darth Vader in that scene where Darth tells Luke Skywalker "Strike me down and I will become even more powerful," because that's what Madonna is about to do to you.

At one point, Sex was the highest selling coffee table book of all time. Well played, Madonna.

The people who purchased the book are also laughing all the way to the bank. After two printings in four languages, Sex is now out of print. The only way to own it is to buy someone else's copy. Unopened (the book was packaged in shiny silver baggies) first editions can sell for hundreds of dollars on Ebay and other auction sites. The Japanese version is said to be even more valuable because it was banned almost as soon as it went on sale.

Take this as a lesson censors. Don't tangle with Madonna. Madonna always wins. ...and by the way, she is smarter than you, too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No. 91: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I once dated this guy, Steve. The main thing I remember about him (other than the fact that he was built like a Greek statue) was that he was sweet and shy. We dated for a bit and then the Navy moved him to Florida for flight school and we lost touch.

A couple years later, I had a business meeting in San Diego that I absolutely had had had to attend in person (because my job back then was ridiculous and required me to be in, like, three places at once). To make this particular meeting, I would have had to fly there and back (from Washington DC) on the same day. Gentle Readers, same day flight in-and-outs are very expensive so the ticket was almost $3,000. I told my manager I'd be willing to spend the weekend in San Diego to reduce my airfare if I could stay someplace nice on the beach. He was all "Why are you even asking me?" so I booked myself in the lovely Hotel del Coronado and proceeded to set about unwinding all the stiff muscles in my back.

While unwinding, I took the Hotel's bike tour of the Island. Our group biked past a military installation and I asked the tour guide about it. When he informed me that it was the Naval Air Station, I knew (seriously I knew,) that Steve was on the island. I got back to the hotel, dialed information, asked for his listing in Coronado, and got connected. Conversation went something like this:
Me: "Steve?"
Steve: "Kim?"
Me: "Yeah."
Him: "You're at the Hotel del."
Me: "How do you know that?"
Him: "Caller ID. You hungry?"
Me: "Starved."
Him: "I just got Thai food delivered. I'll pick you up in front of the hotel in 5 minutes."
...and a lovely weekend with the hunky Steve ensued. The point of all this? Steve's favorite book was The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, which I know because he made me read it.

The Pillars of the Earth is basically about a builder and a monk who collaborate to build a cathedral in England in the Middle Ages. It's pretty damn great! ...and complicated. ...and suspenseful. ...and long, (which you won't even notice. Trust me). ...and banned.

The reasons for its banning include graphic descriptions of sex and violence, particularly against women. A Fairfax County Virginia (and I thought we were getting along so well Virginia) School Board member who voted to restrict the book to 10th-12th grade students called the book's content "obscene and pervasively vulgar". It's been many years since I read it but I don't remember any pervasive vulgarity. It is fairly violent but that's historically accurate to medieval times. It's also fairly sexual but it was never intended to be read by children. That said, I think kids over 14 should be OK reading it.

Read it. It's great.

One late note: Steve, if you're reading this, thanks for the Thai food.

Monday, July 27, 2009

No. 11: Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

Over the weekend my boyfriend, Tivo, recorded a couple episodes of 30 Days for me. 30 Days is the brainchild of Morgan Spurlock who deep fried himself into liver failure by eating nothing but McDonalds for 30 days in the hilarious and disturbing documentary Supersize Me. (Banning note: Don't try that at home, Gentle Readers.) 30 Days follows the same concept as the movie – take someone with one opinion/creed/philosophy/moral conviction/living condition and have them live in the exact opposite environment for 30 days and see what happens. As you can well imagine, fun ensues from there! Spurlock has tossed an active duty soldier into the San Francisco apartment of a homosexual activist; a Boston gun control advocate onto the Ohio farm of a gun enthusiast, a New York City electronic gadget freak onto a Utah off-the-grid organic commune, a conservative Christian from West Virginia into a Muslim home in Dearborn, Michigan, and himself into a Virginia jail... all for 30 days.

It’s absolutely brilliant. In every episode I’ve watched, all the participants come out changed for the better, with less rigid opinions, an understanding of something they used to fear, and unexpected new found friendships. That is, until I watched yesterday’s show. In it, a Mormon woman, Kati, who believes that children should be raised by a mother and a father, lived with Tom and Dennis, a homosexual couple, who adopted four boys out of the foster care system. This episode really shocked me. Despite the fact that Tom and Dennis were excellent parents and that the boys were happy and healthy and would still be in foster care without them, Kati never swayed from her opinion that Tom and Dennis shouldn't have been allowed to adopt children.

So, today I am thinking about gay and lesbian parents. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman seemed like a fine book for The Daily Banning. This book is about a child, Heather, raised by lesbians; one of whom gets pregnant via artificial insemination, and the other who helps raise Heather. It centers around Heather's new playgroup, where the other kids and their parents talk about Heather's mommies simply and positively. No big deal, right? Wrong!

This poor book is so banned that its author, Leslea Newman, gave an interview on stating that she had two jobs -- one as a writer and the other as a defender of Heather Has Two Mommies. Apparently this book has been praised, banned, showered with awards, burned, read aloud in the US Senate, and gotten people fired. Quite a track record for one little childrens' book. I think the thing that most shocked its censors is that Heather's family is virtually indistinguishable from their own family. If that's true, then what happens to their conviction that being around gay people is damaging to children? They might have to change their minds and we can't have that.

Let me bottom line it for you, Gentle Readers... Kati would hate this book. That alone should make you run out and buy it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

No. 60: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

I read somewhere that a group publishes a newsletter titled “How to Ban Judy Blume” and that Judy Blume herself actually subscribed to it. I’m torn between hoping this is true because that would be the most awesome thing ever, and hoping that it’s not true because I really can’t afford another girl crush right now. I’m already trying to figure out how to be BFFs with Gwen Stefani (rock star, fashion designer, hot husband, cute kids), Michelle Obama (brilliant, confident, great wardrobe) and Tina Fey (hilarious, brilliant, writer, producer, actress) and really have no time to add Judy Blume to my crush corner. ...but if it’s true, Judy’s cool factor is rocketing (rocketing!) up the scale. Plus, I couldn't have gotten through junior high without Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret which is much in Blume's favor.

So let's talk about this banned book. Margaret, 11-years old and the daughter of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, moves from New York City to suburbia just before the start of sixth grade. Her new teacher assigns the class a year long study project, which Margaret decides to do about faith because she herself is no religion and she needs to chose one. Margaret makes friends, hangs out with her grandma, and worries about bras, periods, and kisses from boys -- none of which she has experienced at the start of the book. Along the way, she talks to God, always starting with "Are you there, God? It's Me, Margaret..." as if God wouldn't a) be there or b) know who she was.

This book is brilliant and painful and funny and beautiful. Here's a passage that makes me laugh and breaks my heart at the same time:
“Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. I just told my mother I want a bra. Please help me grow God. You know where. I want to be like everyone else.”
I know, right? Don't you just want to cover your head or eat chocolate or burst into tears or something because this is exactly what puberty was like? Margaret has all the doubts, fears, and worries of a typical girl and Blume captures all of it. As a result, the book is full of 'tween angst but at its sweet center is Margaret just talking to God and trying to figure out her world.

So why is this lovely book banned? Censors seem to take issue with it's portrayal of religion (a political quagmire on a good day) and its frank discussions of boobies (the horror!) and periods (oh God no! anything but that!). Well, newsflash -- this is what little girls think about. Banning a book because it addresses growing up in a way that makes you uncomfortable is just retarded. ...and shortsighted because kids are going to think about these things and grow up whether you like it or not. So here's the deal censors (and I repeat myself): if you don't want your kids reading this book, don't let them. The rest of us will give our kids Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret in hopes that it will do for them what it did for us - arm them with a little more information and make them feel a little less alone.

One last thing... leave Judy Blume alone. This woman is a national treasure (and I don't mean that snarky), right up there with my BFFs Gwen, Michelle, and Tina.

Monday, July 6, 2009

No. 1: Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz

Last summer, my mom and I laughed ourselves silly as an old family friend (Andrea) explained to us why her neighbor didn't like her. Get this - her sister hosted a slumber party for her daughter's girl scout troop (which the neighbor's daughter also attended), and Andrea decided it would be a great idea to scare them. So she acted like a zombie and tried to climb in the window when the girls were all sleeping. (...and no, I am not kidding.) The girls were, like, scared out of their minds. Apparently, there was shrieking and screaming and dogs barking and all kinds of mayhem. I laughed for days every time I thought about it because, who does that? What normal adult sees a group of girl scouts and thinks "Hey, I think I'll scare them!"? I'm counting at least two people: Andrea and Alvin Schwartz.

The Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz is subtitled “To Tell in the Dark” but I think a more apt title might be “To Make Your Fellow Campers Wet Their Bunks.” This book is kind of the (big, fat, scary) bomb. It is also the ALA’s No. 1 banned book of the past several years. I was surprised because there isn’t one single gay person in the whole thing. After researching the banning, I think it has more to do with exhausted parents of terrified kids than anything else.

The book itself is scary but somewhat familiar to anyone who sat around a summer campfire telling ghost stories. Schwartz based his Scary Stories series on American folklore and some classic urban legends because let’s face it, Gentle Readers – we don’t have tons of folklore compared to older countries like China. Remember the one about the couple making out on lover’s lane when the radio announces the escape of a one armed madman from the local insane asylum and the couple speeds off and arrives home to find the madman’s bloody hook hanging from their car door!??! It’s in there.

Schwartz also gives tips like “lower your voice so that your listeners have to lean in close to hear you” and “when you get to this point in the story jump out at your listeners and scream “BWWWAAAAAAAAA!!!” Excellent instructions for maximum scare-age, yes? It brings us to our banning. Many of the internet accounts I’ve read say “This book is great but I read three stories to my 4-year old and he wound up sleeping in bed with my wife and me for months afterwards.” Variations include “cried himself to sleep,” “had night terrors,” and “started bed wetting again.” Well, Asshat, maybe you shouldn’t have read ghost stories to your toddler.

Other critics cite cannibalism (in one story a farm boy finds a toe growing in his field and his family cooks it for dinner), murder (severed heads bounce down the chimney), witchcraft, and ghosts (of which there are many) as reasons for banning. Several websites had bigger problems with the illustrations (which I have to admit wigged me out) than the stories themselves.

Here's the bottom line for this one - don't read it aloud to your toddlers but older kids will love it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

No 23: Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

When I was a teenager, my mom was convinced that any song lyric she didn't understand was a reference to drugs. We'd be riding along in the car with the radio playing and mom would turn to my sister and me and say "That's slang for cocaine." My sister and I were all "How on earth do you know that?" and she would nod gravely and say "I just do." Now, my mom is not some drug-using hippie. She's a straight arrow, school teaching, christian, ex-military wife who has never even taken more than the prescribed dosage of an advil. Turns out that she was right about at least one song I remember. I can find no logical reason for my mom's accurate knowledge of drug slang and am therefore assuming that she picked it up from Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (aka Beatrice Sparks).

First published in 1971, Go Ask Alice shows up at number 23 on the ALA's List of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books. The title is a reference to that horrible Jefferson Airplane song, White Rabbit, which everyone but me seems to love. It is presented as the diary of an actual (anonymous) 15-year old girl who accidentally takes LSD, and begins a descent into the world of drugs, runaways, rape, violence, sex, and sex for drugs (which I think we can all agree is a different category of sex altogether).

Gentle Readers, do I even need to go into why this book is banned? That's what I thought.

There is another controversy altogether surrounding this book (which seems interestingly not to have impacted its banning one way or the other) and that is its veracity as a diary. Go Ask Alice written by an actual, real life, walking, talking, high school attending 15-year old girl? Yeah... not so much. I mean seriously, the book goes into pages of detail about her first drug trip (where she understood Adam & Eve's secret language) and then spends less than two paragraphs talking about a boy she likes. Does that sound like any 15-year old girl you know? Me neither.

Still, I felt sorry for the (made-up) teenage girl. She repeatedly tries to get off drugs only to be left lonely as the druggies torment her and the straight kids want nothing to do with her. "Lonely" and "teenager" are not a good combination.

Instead of banning this book, it would be great to use it as a jumpstarter for a conversation with teenagers about drugs. Granted, it's fairly dramatic (and possibly overblown) but also a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when bad drugs happen to nice kids.

Friday, June 26, 2009

No. 26: The Stupids by Harry Allard

When I travel to Europe, I always try to bring a couple boxes of Kinder Eggs home with me. Not for sale in the US, Kinder Eggs are hollow egg-shaped chocolates with little toy surprises inside. They are the bomb. They are also illegal in America because the toys contained in their hollow chocolatey goodness are too tiny to meet strict child safety guidelines mandated by whichever government agency regulates these things.

After purchasing several boxes of Kinder Lord of the Rings eggs (limited edition! total score!) and Barbie Eggs in a supermarket in Vienna, Austria, my friend, Laura, and I were sort of forced to explain the embarrassing Kinder ban to our European friends. Our friend Alex's Viennese mother in particular had a hard time grasping what could possibly be harmful about a Kinder Egg. Laura summed it up by saying that our government believes kids in America are too stupid to know better than to stick Kinder toys up their noses and if it's true, then our kids probably are too stupid to play with them.

I do actually have a point with all this.

The rationale for banning Kinder Eggs reminds me of the reasons why people ban The Stupids series by Harry Allard. Let's get really honest about this, Gentle Readers... If our kids in America are too stupid to understand that The Stupids aren't meant to be taken seriously, then they probably are (for real) too stupid to read the books.

Which is a shame because the Stupids are hysterical! ...and, of course, very stupid. This is one family truly walking through the world in a clue-free state. Even the simplest tasks like eating breakfast (which they do in the shower) elude them. In one scene, Mrs. Stupid makes herself a new dress by strapping live chickens all over her body. If I were 5-years old, this would be high humor to me. There are subtler things -- like a framed picture of a bucket with the caption "Lake Stupid" underneath it -- that will appeal to adults too.

The first book in the series The Stupids Have a Ball, gets banned because the Stupids throw a costume party to celebrate their children failing every subject in school (including recess). Its critics say this promotes negative behavior and reinforces low self esteem. Another book in the series The Stupids Die gets banned due to objections about the word "die" in its title. No, I am not kidding. I also discovered in my research that parents these days are teaching their kids that the word "stupid" is a bad word, similar to sh*t or the f-bomb. I'm picturing those parents leading the charge to ban the Stupids.

Sounds stupid, doesn't it? Now, excuse me while I go stick my Kinder Aragorn up my nose.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Supplemental Karmic Post for America: A Canadian Horror Story

Once upon a time in Canada (which is a whole separate country from America), there were no cute shoes to be found in any of the stores and all the people had to wear ugly stupid shoes. Da-Da-Dum!

Take that Margaret Atwood!

Monday, June 22, 2009

No. 37: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is the end of all happiness. I used to think that the movie Cold Mountain (which made me want to throw myself off a cliff) was the end of all happiness, but now I know better. Cold Mountain, meet The Handmaid's Tale. You've been dethroned.

Set it a post apocalyptic-ish America (now called Gilead and run by Christian zealots), the world is massively infertile. Women who can still bear children, or "handmaids," are valuable commodities and are given to high ranking couples to produce children for them. The book is narrated by Offred (literally "Of-Fred, or "belonging to Fred"), a handmaid whose pragmatic response to the turmoil in her society is both spooky and compelling. The book is depressing as hell and portions of it are squirm inducing in the extreme. It's also brilliant.

Part of why it's so upsetting is that it's plausible. If the conditions that scary Atwood imagines existed (and we smashed our Constitution into bite sized chunks and fed it to our dogs) The Handmaid's Tale isn't that far fetched.

Critics claim the book is depressing. Yeah, but so is The Scarlet Letter and I had to read that. It's also cited as too sexually explicit for minors. Sex in Gilead isn't fun for anyone, readers or participants. It's only for procreation and the way they do it is the grossest, least sexy, most squick-worthy Ménage à Trois, like, ever. Critics also take issue with the book's treatment of women (whose lives are the suck), Christianity (depicted at its ugly extreme), and believe it or not, Islam (the women are veiled and polygamy is accepted). Gentle Readers, I submit that these very complaints are the point of this book.

Here's the deal, America. The Handmaid's Tale is a cautionary tale about fundamentalist totalitarianism, fascism, backlash against feminism, and all kinds of other nasty things that could happen if we all stopped caring about... basically everything. Should a 12-year old read it? No. Should a 17-year old read it? Sure. It's got mature themes but aren't the late teens the point in life when kids are supposed to start thinking expansively and examine their world? If the answer to that is "No," then stock libraries with nothing but Hello Kitty and I'll go watch TV.

I do have one major complaint about this book (and notice that I'm complaining and not screaming "burn this book" to anyone who will listen). Atwood, a Canadian, set her story in America. In case you didn't know it, those are totally different countries (one in which Atwood lives and the other in which she doesn't). I say, keep your dystopian nightmarish future society vibes in your own country. Seriously. Don't you think we have enough to worry about already? Among the war in Iraq, idiot white supremacists opening fire at the Holocaust museum, the OctoMom and all kinds of other crazy crap we're quite busy. Fending off your mental super whammy, is really not on our national agenda. To balance the cosmic scales, I am going to have to write a scary story and set it in Canada. The things I do for you people.

Friday, June 19, 2009

No. 13: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Gentle Readers, I think it's time I tell you about my first crush. (Pretend like the music from Summer Place is swelling in the background. It makes the story better.) His name was Brian and we went to first grade together. I don't remember much about him except for the time he let me lift his lunchbox and it was really heavy. Then he moved away and I never saw him again. OK... it's not as good a story as I thought. Instead, let's talk about my first literary crush. His name was Holden Caulfield and he was just tortured. I knew if I could only meet him, he'd see that I wasn't a phony and I could save him from himself.

Holden, as I'm sure you know unless you've been living under a rock since birth, is the main character from J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, first published in 1951 and making foolish girls swoon ever since. If Holden were a real boy, he'd have black eyes, not just from getting beaten up by a bellman, but also from all the times he's been banned. The main reasons for the book's censorship are profanity (shocker! Holden = potty mouth), immorality and inappropriate sexual situations (among other things, Holden hires a hooker but is too angst filled to do anything with her), homosexuality (Holden's male teacher likes him a little too much) and (my favorite!) promotion of communism. The communism claim is a little vague but in 1978, parents in Washington state claimed that Holden's rebelliousness was part of a communist attempt to gain a foothold in American schools (or something).* Honestly, I think some people just don't get Holden.

Now that I'm older, I kind of see why. Holden can be a bit of a drag. When a teenage boy is too sad to have sex with a hooker, something is definitely wrong with the poor kid. Since we've already discussed how bad puberty sucks, I'll leave it alone. To his critics I say Holden is not beyond redemption, and point to his love for his sister Phoebe as proof. When I think about Holden now, I like to think that he got that job catching kids in the rye.

One last personal note to Billy Collins, I'm not the girl who left egg salad stains in his Marginalia, but I wish I was.

* To read more about this enticing ban, check out 100 Banned Books by Karolides, Bald, & Sova.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Challenged versus Banned

I thought I'd just pause for a moment and explain the difference between "challenged" and "banned," in case you're confused, Gentle Readers. Challenged just means that someone (almost always a parent) has asked someone else (almost always a librarian but sometimes a school board, book store, church, or government official) to remove a book from circulation. Banned means that the challenge was successful.

I point this out because the terms have different legal meanings. The case law surrounding censorship and book banning is long and complex. I'm neither qualified nor interested in laying it all out here. There are some excellent books available on the topic (if they haven't been banned yet, that is) if you really want to learn more. I recommend Banned in the USA, A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries by Herbert Foerstel.

In writing this blog, I've learned that challenges happen all the time but official bannings are (thankfully!) less common. The thing worth remembering amid all this fuss is that just because someone asked a librarian to remove a book, it doesn't mean that the librarian did it.

So, give it up for librarians, everyone! Kurt Vonnegut said it better than me so I'll let him take over from here...

"And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries." - Kurt Vonnegut, I Love You, Madame Librarian, 2004.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

These are the times that try men’s souls. I’ve been watching the news coming out of Iran and find my soul being tried, Gentle Readers. So I’m breaking from my tradition of writing about recent book bannings and am instead, reaching back about 200 years or so. Today’s topic is a man well known to all Americans who went to Burlington Elementary School and possibly even our rival school, South Point No. 2 (but who really knows what went on in that place?). I’m talking about Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense (1776), The American Crisis (1776), and Rights of Man (1791). Paine was smart enough to publish Common Sense (a brochure containing powerful and persuasive arguments for American independence from England) in the US, so it was never banned. By 1791, Paine was living in England (why? why? why?) when he published Rights of Man. It is among the most banned political works in history.

Here’s the basic gist of it (and I am truly boiling it down here because there’s a lot of stuff about why governments exist and the social covenant of the governed, etc.): Governments can exist through: 1) superstition and be led by priests; 2) force and be led by conquerors; or 3) reason and be led by the will of the people. He then goes on to dispute the inherent right of any specific leader or family to rule and points a big finger at the English aristocracy, saying that they fall into Category Two. Then, our boy Paine cites some examples of Category Three countries that are better than England and lists both France and America. England was all “Oh yeah? Well, so’s your face!” and proceeded to issue a warrant for his arrest. Paine escaped arrest by fleeing to France but was tried in absentia and found guilty of libel and high treason. The English court sentenced Paine with death should he ever enter England again, which he didn’t. All copies of the Rights of Man found in England were routinely seized and burned for years after its publication.

It seems silly, doesn’t it? That a simple concept like governance at the consent of the governed should cause such an uproar? To us it does because we’ve had 200 years to get used to it. We are very very lucky in America. We had brave people who rose up and said “You know what? Your Category Two system is bad. We’re going to try something different over here. We’re going to take our shot at being a Category Three country. Go away and leave us alone.”

I guess every oppressed nation has its time where the people stand up and say “Enough!” I look at what’s happening in Iran and wonder if now is their moment. If it is, I wish them well. Freedom isn’t free and the road is long and hard. Look no further than Thomas Paine himself to learn that lesson. Because he never failed to speak his mind, at the end of his life Paine was labeled a blasphemer and worse. He survived a murder attempt and was ultimately stripped of his right to vote. A century later, Teddy Roosevelt referred to him as “a filthy little atheist.” Hard to believe isn’t it?

Unfortunately, I think Iran has the dubious distinction of being both a Category One and Two country. I’m no political scholar but I imagine that will make their freedom twice as hard to achieve. If this doesn’t turn out to be Iran’s moment, I hope their brave citizens who are so very publicly saying “Enough” survive it.

No 40: What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls by Lynda Madaras (and No. 61: same title, Book for Boys)

Welcome back to another issue of the Daily Banning. Let’s talk about our preteen years. Remember that terrible time? Everything about your body was changing. You felt awkward, stinky, hairy, uncoordinated, zitty, cranky, and generally clueless. …and all you wanted in the whole world was to be cool. It’s called puberty, Gentle Readers, and it wasn’t just you. It sucked for everybody. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a user’s manual that explained what was going on? Enter Lynda Madaras, California sex education teacher, and her What’s Happening to My Body? books for girls and boys. At this point in our discussions, you shouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that these books (targeted at kids aged 8 to 15) have been banned due to inappropriate sexual content.

The books hit the scene in the early 1980s and have been updated multiple times since then. Madaras talks straightforwardly about menstruation, reproduction, breasts, emotional changes, body hair, pimples, masturbation, and what’s going on puberty-wise with the opposite sex. Newer releases for girls contain additional information about eating disorders, unwanted attention because of early development, information on eating right, exercise, AIDS, STDs, and birth control. Based on my research it looks like the boy’s version is similar but also addresses growth spurts, erections, and voice changes.

This banning is not well documented so my research options have been limited. Apparently, those challenging this series of books are reluctant to go on record. (Coward much?) I’ve found critics citing anatomical drawings, medical descriptions, and definitions of slang terms provided in the book as evidence of its age inappropriateness, but that’s about it.

I’ve written and deleted a lot of sarcastic comments here about how we shouldn’t tell kids anything at all about their bodies and watch how they deal with puberty because, hey... funny!, but it isn’t funny. Some kids don’t have responsible caring adults in their lives who they can talk to about this stuff. Wouldn’t it be kind of a double victory if a scared confused kid 1) went to a library; and 2) found out that they’re perfectly normal? …or at least the same kind of abnormal as everyone else.

No. 88: Where's Waldo? by Martin Handford. (No, I am not kidding).

Hello gentle readers. Welcome to another issue of The Daily Banning. Today, we’re going to talk about pornography. ...and really, you can’t talk about porn without talking about Where’s Waldo?.

The Where’s Waldo? books are the brainchild of British children's author and illustrator Martin Handford. The series debuted in 1987 and introduced readers to Waldo, a nattily dressed man, as he set off to explore the world. Waldo has a knack for ending up in crowded places with people (or objects) dressed almost exactly like him. (Incidentally ladies, this is a nightmare, yes? Going to a party and seeing someone else in my dress? Not good.) The point for the readers is to pick Waldo out of the crowd. Handford has sent Waldo all over the world and even off the world where it appears that instead of little green men, Mars is populated by aliens who look a lot like Waldo. Who knew?

Wait, where was I? Oh yes, porn. The original edition of Where’s Waldo? has been banned because a sunbather in an intricate beach scene has a partially exposed breast. I’ll wait a moment for your horror and outrage to wear off.

OK. I thought this must surely be an urban legend but have confirmed that it’s true. In the picture, a woman lying on her stomach has removed her bikini top to tan her back. In reaction to being dowsed with water, she's partially lifted up in surprise. As viewers we only see the woman from the back but under one of her arms, you can see half a boobie and possibly even (gasp!) a nipple.

The sunbather appears in a 1987 edition only and was removed in subsequent releases due to the controversy. (I'm posting the before and after photos at the bottom of this because if I were you, I'd want to see them. This may possibly make me a porn peddler. Please visit me in jail.) We fine, moral, Americans can rest easily knowing that our children are safe from nipples everywhere.

BTW... I think you should all check to see if you own that 1987 edition. It’s probably worth some money.

No 67: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Slaughterhouse Five appears at number 67 of the American Library Association's list of Most Challenged Books (1990-2000) and holds a special place in my heart. It was assigned summer reading by Miami University (college old and grand) for all entering students my freshman year. I thought it was strange and wonderful. I was, of course, right.

Slaughterhouse Five has been the subject of MANY attempts at censorship since its publication in 1969. In fact, Slaughterhouse was challenged all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1982, (Island Trees School District v. Pico). In case you’re wondering, the Supreme Court upheld the right of students to read it and teachers to teach it. Its critics have called it "dangerous" because of violent, irreverent, profane, sexually explicit and anti-American content.

I could break each of those criticisms down one by one but that might be boring. Here’s the gist of it... Slaughterhouse is set during WWII. The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is an American POW who survives the bombing of Dresden. That it doesn’t shy away from describing the civilian casualties of the attack (read: Americans who are supposed to be the good guys attacking a city and killing innocent people) has made its critics cranky for years. Toss in Vonnegut’s general irreverence, Sci-Fi themes, swearing soldiers, sex, and bashing of free will and you get a lot of pissed off people.

What can I say? Vonnegut is not for everyone but if you like your reading thought provoking and irreverent, you should check it out. It's worth noting that Slaughterhouse is one of the first literary acknowledgments that the Nazi Holocaust also targeted homosexual men.