Absurd Adventures in Censorship: A Look at Dumb Attempts to Ban Children's Books

Many attempts to censor literature, and children's literature in particular, have been based on some ridiculous reasoning, with the resulting stories being hilarious and bewildering.

Children's books are known for whimsy and flights of fancy that stretch the imagination. However, the real world has its own fair share of absurdity, as evidenced by some of the most baffling attempts at censorship. These instances of book banning are utterly and hilariously bewildering. Join us as we explore several peculiar tales of attempts to silence literature, where the imagination is seemingly boundless.

"Hop on Pop" by Dr. Seuss: An Ode to Paternal Violence?

In the realm of children's literature, Dr. Seuss stands as a giant, celebrated for his whimsical tales and enchanting rhymes. But in 2014, a patron of the Toronto Public Library took it upon themselves to challenge the innocence of "Hop on Pop." Their claim? The book encouraged violence against fathers, all because the title implied children hopping on their fathers.1,2

Nevermind that the book includes only one spread with the offending text, and the recto page urges children NOT to hop on Pop, this bizarre interpretation of Seuss's book seems to have originated from someone who never bothered to read it, even though the collection of very short repetitive words was meant to be easy for even small children to read. I'm certain this attempt to ban the book would have left the good doctor scratching his head in befuddlement.

"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe": Everybody Hates Aslan

C.S. Lewis's beloved tale of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is a cornerstone of children's literature, enchanting readers for generations. However, it managed to attract challenges from both Christians and non-Christians alike.

In 1990, some Christians found fault with the character Aslan, a Christ allegory in the story, as he was portrayed as a lion, and in their view, a Christ-like character being depicted as any sort of animal is blatantly paganistic.3

Later, the same book was criticized for being offensive to non-Christians because of its Christian allegory which, to adults at least, seems quite explicit.4 This Catch-22 situation would have undoubtedly perplexed the author himself, who was a devout Christian.

"Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?": The Case of Mistaken Identity

"Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" by Bill Martin, Jr. is a simple and delightful book for children, designed to foster early reading skills. This short tome, illustrated by Eric Carle, has a colorful collection of animals (and some kids and a teacher) describing who is currently looking at them.

When I read that this book was challenged, I thought perhaps it could be claimed that it normalized a surveillance state, but the true reason is even more bizarre.

The book was briefly banned in a Texas school district because the author of “Brown Bear”, Bill Martin, Jr., shared a name with another author who wrote a book titled "Ethical Marxism."5,6

The book was banned not for its content but due to an absurd case of mistaken identity. The innocent brown bear never saw that coming!

"Little Red Riding Hood": Wine in the Basket

The European fairy tale of "Little Red Riding Hood" has been enjoyed by generations of children. Its tales of cunning wolves and brave woodsmen might be considered violent and dark, but one wouldn't expect it to be challenged for its cover.

In 1990, a Caldecott-winning version of this well-known story was banned in two California school districts not because the story's violence might be a bad influence on children, but because the basket on the cover graphic contained a bottle of wine,7,8 which might turn impressionable children into alcoholics.

A true enigma, as it seems that, in this version, the offense was not in the wolf's belly but in the wine bottle.

"Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 10th Edition": Defining Absurdity

In 2010, a Southern California school district was entangled in a baffling ordeal. It all began when a concerned parent discovered that her child had stumbled upon the definition for "oral sex" in the "Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 10th Edition." Shocked and appalled, the parent insisted that the book be banned from schools.9,10

The school district, in a frenzy of damage control, began scouring the dictionary for other potentially offensive terms, ultimately removing the book from classrooms. Who would have thought that an ordinary dictionary could be labelled as offensive literature?

The good news is that all of these comical attempts at banning books failed. Books removed were eventually returned to circulation in most cases.1,3,8 The dictionary also was returned to classrooms, though parents were given the opportunity to ask that their child not have access if they were worried about little Johnny finding new and offensive words.11

The stories remind us that the quest to censor literature can sometimes take inexplicably comical detours, and underline the importance of celebrating the freedom our children have to read, think, and question, even when it leads to the most peculiar adventures.

References:

1. Stampler L. Grinch wants libraries to ban violent propaganda “Hop on Pop.” Time. Published April 29, 2014. https://time.com/81560/dr-seuss-hop-on-pop-ban-toronto/

2. Wilson C. Library patrons want pair of children's books banned. CP24. Published April 29, 2014. https://www.cp24.com/news/library-patrons-want-pair-of-children-s-books-banned-1.1797236

3. Beliefnet. 10 Classic Childrens Books That Were Surprisingly Banned. Beliefnet. https://www.beliefnet.com/entertainment/galleries/10-classic-childrens-books-that-were-surprisingly-banned.aspx

4. Banned Book Review: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe | thehopefulheroine. https://thehopefulheroine.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/banned-book-review-the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe/

5. Troop D. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Why Were You Banned? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Published January 25, 2010. https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/tweed/brown-bear-brown-bear-why-were-you-banned

6. Shurley T. “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” a Communist Manifesto? – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth. NBCDFW. https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/brown-bear-brown-bear-a-communist-manifesto/1892354/

7. Schippers B. Research Guides at CSU Pueblo Library: ED 351: Children's Literature: Banned Books. Accessed October 18, 2023. https://guides.library.csupueblo.edu/c.php?g=503794&p=3448114

8. Jacobson L. PolitiFact - Moms Demand Action says “Little Red Riding Hood” has been banned, but assault weapons haven't. Polifact. Published August 27, 2013. https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2013/aug/27/moms-demand-action-gun-sense-america/moms-demand-action-says-little-red-riding-hood-has/

9. Flood A. “Oral sex” definition prompts dictionary ban in US schools. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/25/oral-sex-dictionary-ban-us-schools. Published January 25, 2010.

10. McKinnon J. Menifee school officials remove dictionary over term “oral sex.” Press-Enterprise. Published January 25, 2010. https://web.archive.org/web/20100304162805/https:/www.pe.com/localnews/menifee/stories/PE_News_Local_W_sdictionary22.414bdf0.html

11. Kelly D. Banned dictionary to return to Riverside County school. Los Angeles Times. Published January 27, 2010. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2010-jan-27-la-me-dictionary27-2010jan27-story.html

Wendy J. Woudstra

Wendy Woudstra is the driving force behind PublishersArchive.com, an ad-supported informational website featuring a comprehensive database of book publishing companies, literary festivals, and literary awards.

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