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Read the Printed Word!

Controversial Children’s and YA Literature, part one

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The Internet, and by extension digital media, has been hailed as a great equalizer. It has been feared and revered for its capacity to broaden our horizons by transmitting sensitive, scandalous, revolutionary, or revelatory information to those who would not otherwise have seen it, those whose information diet would previously have been limited by governments, by schools, by prejudice, or just by sheer geography.

Books, journals and newspapers can be banned or their import made difficult. Online information is not as vulnerable to censorship; in some ways ungovernable, digital information has a way of seeping through. So we’re told, anyway. As it turns out, many banned children’s and young adult books — often one’s first experience of censorsip — are not available in ebook format. It’s worth noting that nearly all of these can be ordered online in book format, and that goes a long way toward getting around local, though not national, censorship. However, the dearth of controversial children’s ebooks, many of them considered classics, does raise questions about who makes those decisions, and why.

Following is a list of children’s and young adult books that have at some point been challenged, that this blogger has not been able to find in ebook format, from any vendor, on any platform.

Forever… by Judy Blume

Stirred up controversy with its frank treatment of teenage sex, sexuality and birth control. It would seem that most of Blume’s oeuvre is available in ebook format, including the similarly controversial Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, Deenie and Tiger Eyes. Forever… is a glaring omission. However, in response to a tweet from That’s Not Online!, Blume tweeted that the ebook version is coming soon. She did not give a reason for the delay.

UPDATE: Judy Blume tweeted that Forever… has a different publisher than her other books, meaning its e-book format has to be negotiated separately.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

By this blogger’s count, five other books by the prolific Robert Cormier are available in ebook format, from various platforms: Heroes, Fade, We All Fall Down, Frenchtown Summer and The Rag and Bone Shop. The Chocolate War was listed as one of ALA’s most-challenged books in 2001-2005, 2007 and 2009 and the third most challenged book from 2000-2009; typically, it has been challenged for offensive language, violence, and depictions of sexuality.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

According to The Houston Press, Lee sent a letter to O, the Oprah Magazine in 2006 that said,

Can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.

It is more than likely, then, that Mockingbird's absence from ebook stores has more to do with its authors distaste for the format than any kind of censorship. Lee, 85 years old, is still living. Her Pulitzer-prize-winning book has been challenged for a variety of reasons since its publication.

Show Me! by Will McBride

This post at Swiss Army Librarian describes a reference interview in which a patron was looking for further information on a book called Show Me!, which she had spotted at a neighbour’s house and worried would classify as child pornography. This book, which has been challenged in several countries (see Wikipedia for a summary), was written as a sex education book for children and is notable for its explicit photography. According to the New York Times, publication of the book ceased in 1982. Unavailable as an ebook, Show Me! is barely available in print. AbeBooks lists used copies of various imprints and conditions ranging in price from £97.52 to £809.41.

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

Published in 1990, Heather Has Two Mommies quickly gained notoriety for its nonjudgmental depiction of a girl growing up with two mothers, a lesbian couple. According to the American Library Association it was the ninth most challenged book in the United States from 1990-1999.

EDIT: These two records from OCLC show that Heather Has Two Mommies has been digitized and the copies may be held at some libraries. However, it is not clear whether the book is available for purchase and download via the internet.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

This tale of two male penguins bringing up a baby penguin, based on a true story, is among the most-challenged books in the USA, according to the American Library Association. It has consistently made the list almost since publication.

(And Tango Makes Three is an ebook! My mistake!)

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Like To Kill A Mockingbird, this book’s failure to be adapted into ebook format may have more to do with its author’s attitudes. As The News Herald points out, Salinger always resisted adaptations of this classic book, and since his death in 2010 his lawyers have taken the same tack, not so much as hinting that an ebook version is on its way.

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

From Banned Books 2011:

This collection of poetry was challenged mainly due to two of its poems. “How Not To Have to Dry the Dishes” was said to encourage messiness and disobedience while “Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony” was objected to because it describes the death of a girl after her parents refuse to buy her a pony. The ever-popular reasons for challenges - supernatural, demons, devils and ghosts – were also voiced.

It would appear that none of Silverstein’s corpus is available in ebook format, suggesting that reasons other than censorship might be at play.

Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite

Depicts a small boy whose parents are divorced, and who lives with both of them. His father is gay and has a “roommate” named Frank.  Controversy, Censorship and Children’s Literature has a summary of political actions against the book. Searching the book on Amazon shows its rarity; one “like-new” hardcover edition is listed at US$98.30.


If I am mistaken and any of these are available in ebook format, please reply with this information in the comments.

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