Nothing says “READ ME” like a hot pink “BANNED” label slapped onto the cover of a book.


This particular bookshelf sits in the children’s department of my local library, the Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central Branch, and is typically home to a changing collection books that fall into a particular category or theme (think “Summer!”, “New Releases” or “Chanukkah”). I have only ever seen one person at a time standing in front of it, but when I passed by this Tuesday there were a full four, browsing books and chatting with a nearby librarian — not counting the toddler who was busy de-shelfing the lower half of the display, book by censored book.

We are nearing the end of BANNED BOOKS WEEK 2014 (September 21-27, 2014). The American Library Association, one organizer, offers gobs of information and background on the contemporary state of censorship in the U.S., and The Huffington Post’s BOOKS section is full of discussion about “the value of unhindered expression”, including this handy little infographic post on the what’s, where’s, why’s and who’s of current banned and challenged books.

For this collection, the FLP Children’s Department librarians culled through their collection for any titles that appeared on the frequently challenged or banned list.

Of the ones they pulled out, And Tango Makes Three is perhaps the most obvious: we can’t have it seems like there could possibly be anything good or right or even ok about two males — of any species — rasing young. Right?

Ban-Newberry Ban-tango

My recollection of the details of Julie of the Wolves was foggy, but as it turns out, in the key interaction that compels young Miyax/Julie to run away (to the wolves), her husband, Daniel, pushes her to the floor and tears her dress. That scene has been construed as “rape”, and therefore age-inappropriate. Author Jean Craighead George — delighted to be on a list with the likes of Mark Twain — refuted that interpretation.

No matter that that simple act of violence provides a great entry point for a conversation with kids about the very real issue of violence against girls and women.

The objections to A Wrinkle in Time seem to have been varied and multiple, but almost all are religion-based. At the same time that the book is criticized for being too Christian by some, others take issue with the nature of its Christianity, with claims of sorcery, black magic, new-age-ism and the belittling of J.C. (Madeline L’Engle was the writer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan for a stretch, so it is no surprise that religious themes emerge in her work.)

Most surprising of all: Where’s Waldo?. Seriously? Waldo?!


Turns out that among the umpteen bjillion tiny figures that Martin Handford used to hide Waldo, is a woman sunbathing topless, on a beach. Facedown, originally, she has been surprised into exposing herself by an ice-cream wielding young boy. No need to waste your time searching for the titillating little tidbit; here it is:

Sadly, after controversy bubbled up over this image in the original, 1987 edition of Where’s Waldo, illustrations were modified to eliminate the bather (I just checked my kids’ copy which, amazingly, is from 1987, and she is still there in all her glory). Not to worry though: the would-be censors overlooked various other savory tidbits in Handford’s various Waldo books, from human sacrifice to tranvestitism to torture-as-entertainment, all highlighted in this Toplessrobot blog post from a few years back. Unchallenged, it would seem that none of these offenses is quite as dangerous or subversive as a breast, though. Go figure.


  1. Thanks Anna. Yes, I too am drawn to banned books, and the stories behind their banning are fascinating. You’ve made me want to go back to our Waldo books with a new goal in mind…

  2. WHERE’S WALDO was one of the few that I saw that had been so responsive to the challenges. I was sort of curious to hear what Martin Handford had to say about his or his publisher’s acquiescence, but this was one of those rare instances where Google has failed me.
    I DID, though, come across a new descriptor (which you will appreciate) for the Waldo book illustrations that I totally love: wikipedia describes them as “Wimmelbilderbuch” drawings — in the tradition of H. Bosch…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s