"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."- The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The legality of the First Amendment has lasted more than 200 years. Books, among other written platforms, are protected and governed by its laws. Despite attempts at censorship, the spines of books proudly display controversial titles on shelves, not so much for notoriety, but for historical literary value.
In honor of Banned Books Week, Sept. 29 - Oct. 6, a few of the numerous banned or challenged books are listed below, along with brief explanations of why these titles cause such public outcry.
Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling (1998-2007)Author J.K. Rowling's popularity is far reaching. Sales figures prove it. Her novels are, at this moment, in the hands of eager children and adults alike. This series is attributed to a nationwide surge in reading among kids. Parents' strong distaste for wizardry, spirits and fantasy themes did very little to curtail its huge sales and long lines of fans camped out at bookstores across the nation.
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Opposition: Considered inappropriate and too "dark" for children. Many also believe the series' magic content promotes witchcraft.
Goosebumps Series, R.L. Stine (1992-1997)Before J.K. Rowling came along, R.L. Stine had the attention of kids and parents. Easily recognizable by its vivid and creative covers, Stine's Goosebumps series total 62 books of horror for children. Extremely popular, his stories have inspired television series and even board games. Rumor is he's still writing.
Opposition: Too scary for children. Parents fear the worse – that their kid would be literally "scared to death."
Heather Has Two Mommies, Leslea Newman (1989)A book for kids, considered by some critics to be ahead of its time, but it's right on target for many same-sex couples. The content promotes love, respect and tolerance. "Heather's favorite number is two. She has two hands, two feet ... and two mommies." Children respond well to this unique way of describing special families. According to author Leslea Newman, she was once called "the most dangerous writer living in the world today."
Opposition: Parents and educators fear that a child exposed to literature about alternative families will somehow embrace a similar lifestyle.
The Color Purple, Alice Walker (1983) The writing is so rich in detail, the characters so real, that even without the release of the movie, book lovers are familiar with this dynamic and emotion-stirring story. Who can forget Celie? Celie is raped and impregnated by her father and forced to give up her two children. But Shug Avery, with her beauty and awesome voice, steals the show and Celie's husband.
Opposition: Characters are too believable. Issues are too real. People feel that this story glamorizes adultery, sexuality and violence.
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison (1970) "A little girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes." Pecola Breedlove, poor and ugly, prays for blue eyes. Pecola's ideal image of beauty is a white girl with bright blue eyes and blonde hair. She insists on describing herself as "ugly" and she continues to pray for beautiful blue eyes.
Opposition: Author Toni Morrison challenges the timeless saying, "Black is beautiful." How one defines beauty is always a heated topic. This groundbreaking novel, although fiction, proves the true value of beauty is often ignored. Strong sexuality is depicted throughout story.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (1969) Maya Angelou is considered to be one of literature's most controversial authors. This smart autobiography, set in the 1930s, is based on her tumultuous childhood. Her eloquent writing is honest, somewhat painful and, every now and then, humorous. The love for her brother Bailey shines through the trauma of her violent rape. It lends a peek into her world as a young girl forced into an unwilling sexual discovery.
Opposition: The audacity of Angelou to describe the burden of rape exposes what many refuse to admit.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)Maycomb, Alabama is the setting for this racially charged novel. Jean Louise "Scout" Finch tells the story of how character Tom Robinson is accused of rape. Atticus, the father of "Scout" exhibits truth, courage and fairness as he attempts to defend him. Robinson is eventually convicted, despite his innocence. Racism abounds in a community with no compassion for people or passion for the truth.
Opposition: Racially charged fiction even more controversial as a movie.
Black Boy, Richard Wright (1945)Richard Wright is a great storyteller and his autobiography spares little detail. Violence surrounds him. Distrust is second nature. His intelligence, through his eyes, is more of a curse than a blessing. His racially charged interaction with whites only feeds his fury. He trusts no one and believes no one trusts him. Although extremely controversial, this novel is a literary classic.
Opposition: The racial tension is too raw for some.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1883)One of the oldest and most revered novels of its time, this book caused friction and tense debate among educators, parents and teens. A relationship slowly builds between a slave named Jim and Huck Finn as they travel by raft down the Mississippi River. These are two rebels, physically different, but both searching for freedom.
Opposition: Many educators and parents feel it's inappropriate to expose young readers to slavery. Once required reading in schools, the use of the "n" word gave this book a poor reputation.
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)This famous novel weighs the heavy cost of sin. Once required reading in many high schools, this scandalous tale begins with the imprisonment of Hester Prynne. She has committed adultery and as further punishment, she is forced to wear the scarlet letter "A" upon her chest. The scarlet letter symbolizes shame and misery.
Opposition: Any woman not chaste was an embarassment. Whether fact or fiction, sexual promiscuity was frowned upon.
Recommended Reading, "120 Banned Books, Censorship Histories of World Literature" by Nicholas Karolides, Margaret Bald and Dawn B. Sova.
Karla Mass is a content producer at McClatchy Interactive. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.