Here we are at the final day of the annual Banned Books Week and I just discovered that the beloved American children’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a banned book. In fact, for decades it was one of the most frequently censored books in the United States.
Although the fantasy novel is beloved by children and adults, the book has faced serious criticism and censorship since its publication in 1900. The series of Oz novels have been frequently accused of portraying unwholesome and un-Christian concepts. In 1928 numerous public libraries banned the book arguing that the story was unseemly for “depicting women in strong leadership roles”. This notion remained the common attack against the novels from Protestant ministers and educators though the 1960s. In 1957 the Detroit Public Library banned Baum’s novels by claiming that the books had “no value for children of today”, arguing the stories and characters supported “negativism and brought children’s minds to a cowardly level”.
One of the most notorious banning cases against The Wizard of Oz took place in 1986 when a group of Fundamentalist Christians from Tennessee pushed for the book’s removal from the public school syllabus. They filed a lawsuit against their school district arguing that “the novel’s depiction of benevolent witches and promoting the belief that essential human attributes were ‘individually developed rather than God given’”. They argued that all witches are bad, therefore it is “theologically impossible” for good witches to exist. They were particularly upset by the character Glinda the Good Witch. They argued that the Oz novels promoted self-reliance rather than dependency on God to provide salvation. The judge presiding over the case ruled that the children, whose families opposed the works, should be excused from lesson plans centered on the novel. The families then appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, but the Court refused to hear the case.
Over the years there’s been a notable shift in the subject matter of books being challenged in the U.S. When the American Library Association released its list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2020 in April, the books that received the most challenges to libraries and schools dealt with “racism, Black American history and diversity in the United States,” says Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. But Caldwell-Stone says in 2018 and 2019, the Banned Books list was made up “almost exclusively” of books dealing with LGBTQ concerns.
The theme of this year’s Banned Books Week is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” Public events include a Dear Banned Author Letter-Writing Campaign and Stand For The Banned Read-out, an opportunity for people to submit videos of themselves reading books from the list.
Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2020
George by Alex Gino Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message