Election Section

‘Scary Story’ tops group’s list of banned books

Thursday September 14, 2000

NEW YORK — Harry Potter made the list. So did “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The most popular children’s books? No. The ones adults most wanted removed from library shelves in the 1990s. 

“This just proves no book is safe from censorship attempts,” said Judith Krug, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. 

The top 100 titles were compiled and released in advance of the 20th annual Banned Books Week, which runs Sept. 23-30. The ALA, the American Booksellers Association and the American Society of Journalists and Authors are among the sponsors. 

The most disputed books were the popular “Scary Stories” titles, horror tales by the late Alvin Schwartz. Objections included violence, cannibalism and causing children to fear the dark. A complaint from the school district in Campbell County, Wyo., said the books made kids believe “ghosts are actually possible.” 

Also in the top 10 were such classroom standards as Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” 

“The fact that teachers assign them is one of the reasons there’s so much concern,” Krug said. “They deal with issues a lot of parents don’t want to know about.” 

The Harry Potter series, which Christian groups have attacked because of its themes of witchcraft and wizardry, comes in at No. 48. It was removed this year from a public school in Bridgeport Township, Mich. 

According to the ALA, more than 5,000 complaints were recorded at school and public libraries in the 1990s. Krug said that represents about 20 percent to 25 percent of all challenges, although she does note the annual number has declined slightly over the past years. 

“A lot of people are now spending more time thinking about Internet content,” she said. 

“Sexually explicit” was the most common objection raised about books at libraries, followed by “unsuited to age group” and “occult theme or promoting the occult or Satanism.” Others included violence, promotion of same-sex relationships, racism and anti-family values. 

Krug said about 5 percent of those complaints lead to a book being banned. 

“Usually, when the rest of the community hears about a complaint it speaks out in support of keeping the book,” she said. 

But many books, even famous ones, do get removed. In 1997, Angelou’s memoir was taken off the ninth-grade English curriculum in Anne Arundel County, Md., because it “portrays white people as being horrible, nasty, stupid people.” 

In 1993, “Catcher in the Rye” was removed from a California school district because it “centered around negative activity.” Four years later, the superintendent of the Marysville, Calif., Joint Unified School District banned Salinger’s novel “so that we didn’t have that polarization over a book.” 

The list includes such children’s favorites as Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen” and R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series. Acclaimed adult novels on the list include Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” 

Also cited are William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” removed in 1996 from an advanced placement English reading list in Lindale, Texas, because it “conflicted with the values of the community.”