Some say the best books are often the controversial ones: Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men and all the Harry Potter reads, to name just a few. After 11 years as the media specialist at Moore-Mickens Education Center in Dade City, Leslie Ruttle knows well the books and authors that have incited protest. Judy Blume, the writer of several books for teens and young adults, has made the annual list of most challenged authors more than once, as have George Orwell, Toni Morrison and popular vampire storyteller Stephenie Meyer.
As tradition would have it during this last week of September, Ruttle has created some colorful "warning" signs and draped bright yellow caution tape around the stacks of books that, if some people had their way, might not grace the bookcases of one school or library or another.
While Ruttle typically celebrates things like the birthday of Dr. Seuss with some aplomb, the display commemorating "Banned Books Week" (Sept. 24 to Oct. 1) is a more subtle one, meant to engage students in meaningful thought and perhaps some lively conversation.
Many of the students on campus are parents who have enrolled in the school's Cyesis Program to complete their high school education while their children attend day care on campus, Ruttle said. "So the importance of reading — of sharing books with children — is really emphasized here."
"Usually they're awed that the books they have already read have ended up on the list," Ruttle said. "They don't understand why it's been on the banned book list."
Then comes opportunity to learn something about the First Amendment of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech, Ruttle said, noting that the dialogue that starts in the media center often gets picked up in the history classroom. Students might also get a better glimpse of how government works on a local level — even if it's someplace else.
Just last week, the School Board in Republic, Mo., voted to reverse a complete ban on Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer after objections were raised about the language and violent and sexual content. Even so, the board still kicked both reads off any teacher's assigned reading list, and while the books are available to students for independent reading, they must be kept in a secure part of the library, and only parents or guardians can check them out.
The American Library Association, which has been gathering statistics on banned and challenged books since 1990, says parents represent the largest group to try to remove or restrict access to books they find objectionable. The next largest groups are random patrons and school administrators. Biggest gripes? Sexually explicit content, offensive language, violence and suitability to a certain age group.
Most of the objections are well-intentioned, Ruttle said, adding that she has never been asked to take a book off the shelves at Moore-Mickens. Even so, she has some advice for parents who are concerned about their children's assigned reading.
"Parents should read the book and read the book with their child," she said. "If your child is reading about something you haven't talked with them about in a book, or hearing about something at school, then maybe it's time to have that conversation with your child."
Whatever the subject matter, she said, "It can be one of those teachable moments."
Top 10 challenged books for 2010
• And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
• The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
• Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
• Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
• The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
• Lush, by Natasha Friend
• What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
• Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
• Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
• Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer.
For information about the American Library Association's list of banned and challenged books, go to: ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/index.cfm.
Two new books written by a couple of famous American children's authors who have made the banned book list were released for publication just last week.
After a 30-year break, Maurice Sendak, 83, who wrote the Caldecott Medal winner Where the Wild Things Are, has a new book called Bumble-Ardy, featuring a character based on a skit Sendak created in the 1970s for Sesame Street.
Also new to book stores is Everything on It, a collection of Shel Silverstein's original poems and drawings.
The book, published posthumously, promises to spur giggles in those who enjoyed Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic.
Silverstein, who died in 1999, is also famous for the children's literary staple The Giving Tree and penning songs such as A Boy Named Sue.