Banned books stay on library shelves, in English classes

Roy and Silo are model parents.

They don’t argue, they’re respectful (they frequently bow to one another), and they even prepared themselves before they brought a child into the world.

So when Tango, their female chick, was finally their own, the two male Chinstrap Penguins of New York’s Central Park Zoo were ready.

Their story was told in the 2005 children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, and since then has been included on eight award recipient lists.

Despite the book’s obvious regard, it also crept on to another not-so-“glittery” one: a banned- book list.

From 2006-10, the American Library Association reported, “And Tango Makes Three” was the most challenged book in the nation, and only in 2009 did it fall to the second most challenged book in the nation.

Many adults in the United States objected to children reading the book, as the animal homosexuality in the story made homosexuality in humans seem more natural, according to Wikipedia.

The book was also banned because of its “anti-ethnic, sexism, homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group” content, according to USA Today.

Conservative religious groups who oppose LGBT social movements spoke out against the book, and teachers, superintendents, and parents across the country followed suit, having the book removed entirely from school libraries.

In a 2005 New York Times article, Richardson spoke against the controversy surrounding his 32-page illustrated children’s book.

“We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families,” he said.

“It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”

And so “And Tango Makes Three” became yet another story added to the list of books that are “misinterpreted”—and, according to librarian Joanne Melinson, the majority of these books haven’t even been read by those challenging them.

“When someone challenges a book, the first thing they’re asked to do is read the full text,” she said. “

That way, everyone is on the same page.”

Although a book has never been banned from the Matthews Library, books have been challenged

When they are, and the challenger is asked to read the book, the challenging has dissolved every time, Melinson said. In fact, Melinson doesn’t remember any of the books that have reached this point, as the challenging went away with so little trouble.

Still she pointed out that the library has a plan of action in case the challenging does persist.

After the challenger reads the book and still has a problem with it, a formal complaint is filed. This then goes to a reconsideration committee made up of randomly selected faculty members. At this point, everyone on the committee reads the book and a decision is made.

And while this has never happened at Country Day, Jesuit, or St. Francis High School, others in the Sacramento area have not been so lucky.

In early September, Stephen King’s “Different Seasons” was removed from Rocklin High School’s library shelves when a Rocklin Unified committee approved a parent’s wish to nix the book due to its “graphic rape scene,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

The process of review began at the beginning of the school year; however, in October, Kevin Brown, Rocklin Unified superintendent, overturned the committee’s decision because he said the call should have been made by a committee of districtwide representatives. The newly formed committee, made up of randomly selected members of the school board, chose to keep the book on library shelves.

He offered the complaining party the ability to appeal, and, if they do, they could take their argument to the school board.

As of now, no one has appealed his decision.

Head librarian Judy Walker of St. Francis, although she doesn’t have the book on her own library shelves, was pleased with the Rocklin District decision.

“It’s not the book that’s important—it’s the process they followed,” she said.

“A concern was brought up, it was considered in a formal situation, there was a decision made, and it was reconsidered. This process is what gives us power.”

Still the number of reported challenges in the past 30 years has hovered between about 400 or 500 each year, according to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, an attorney with the American Library Association.

Parents at Del Campo High School attempted to ban John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” from their children’s curriculums.

One mother picked up her son’s copy of “The Catcher in the Rye,” counted the number of swear words in it, and found there were over 700. She brought this case to the school board.

However, neither book was banned from the school’s curriculum.

At Rio Americano, English teacher Nina Siebel had to fight for permission for her Honors English III class to read David Guterson’s “Snow Falling on Cedars” due to the “graphic sexuality” of the book, according to an article in Rio’s newspaper, The Rio Mirado.

Yet at Country Day, the majority of books read from sixth grade on in the curriculum have been on a banned book list.

Teacher Ron Bell, who teaches English III, English IV, and AP English IV includes “The Great Gatsby,” “Catch-22,” “Heart of Darkness,” and other titles in his curriculum–all of which have been banned.

And Bell sees no problem in teaching “questioned” books–as he puts it, “serious literature often deals with controversial topics in a controversial way. It wouldn’t be serious literature if it didn’t.

“Hell, why would Thomas Heller (the author of ‘Catch-22’)  have wanted to make that a prettier picture than what it really was? It’s not its purpose.”

Bell, who has taught at both the high-school and college level, says Country Day is more like a college due to the freedom teachers have to chose the texts taught in their classes.

That freedom, however, has not led him to select banned books for his curriculum—rather, Bell chooses the book first, only to realize it’s been banned later.

“I happen to think that some of the best literature that’s ever been written tends to end up on banned- book lists,” he said.

“Its not a disqualifier; sometimes it actually means there’s something about the human condition in it.”

Eighth-grade English teacher Lauren LaMay has experienced a similar situation.

Every single book she teaches in her class (“Of Mice and Men,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “I am the Cheese”) has been on a banned book list. But, like Bell, whether the book was banned or not never influenced her choice to teach it.

And while a book has never been banned from any part of the Country Day curriculum, a group of students did decide to change things for themselves.

The book, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, used to be taught in freshman English, when David Masiel was the teacher.

The book dealt with themes of racism, incest and molestation.

“A group of students in the class came up (to Masiel) and said ‘we can’t handle the material,’” Bell (who replaced Masiel) said.

Masiel decided to stop teaching to book in deference to the students’ feelings.

The American Library Association notes that books are usually banned “with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information.”

Regardless, according to their website, 23 percent of books are banned due to explicit sexuality, 15 percent due to the book being unsuited for its age group, 13 percent due to offensive language, 6 percent due to homosexuality, 5 percent due to religious viewpoint, 4 percent due to nudity, and 2 percent due to drugs. And the list of reasons only continues.

Melinson attributes this to the ease surrounding challenging a book.

“A lot of the time books are banned because a parent, rather than just preventing their own child from reading it, wants to change things for all kids,” she said.

“For a book to get on that list, it only has to be banned in one place.”

At religiously affiliated schools like Jesuit and St. Francis, the question of whether librarians have books that contradict their religious teaching is raised when choosing which books to have on their shelves.

Roberta Wahlberg, head librarian at Jesuit High School, said they definitely have books that are contrary to Catholic teaching and social justice.

However, her goal in purchasing books for their library is not whether they fit with their religious teachings.

Rather the books in the library must fit with the Library Materials Selection Policy, a document that outlines what books are housed in the library and why.

At Country Day the policy states, “the primary purpose of the school library is to provide students and faculty with library materials that support and enrich the curriculum. Materials are selected on the basis of overall purpose: timeliness, importance of the subject matter; quality of the writing/production; authorities; format; and price.”

At Jesuit, the policy is much the same.

“If we do have books that are contrary, it’s an opportunity for people to talk and explore that aspect of morality,” she said.

“I wouldn’t buy a book just because it was contrary, but wouldn’t buy a book simply because it wasn’t contrary either.”

And because the policy has a clause that states books are purchased based on those who are going to be reading them, that means “Fifty Shades of Grey” is out—and, for Melinson, so was “And Tango Makes Three.”

“It’s not because it’s a banned book—there are probably a lot more than we even realize,” she said.

But Melinson, who discusses banned books every year during Banned Book Week (the first week of October) with middle schoolers, recently did add the book to the library’s shelves.

“It gives the kids a point of reference as to how crazy it is that “And Tango Makes Three” was banned,” she said.

“After I show them, they’re all shocked.”

Here are books on the banned-book lists from the classes of English teachers Brooke Wells, Lauren LaMay, Jane Bauman, Patricia Fels and Ron Bell:


  • The Giver—Wells, 6th
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone—Wells, 6th
  • The House on Mango Street—LaMay, 7th
  • Of Mice and Men—LaMay, 8th
  • To Kill a Mockingbird—LaMay, 8th
  • Lord of the Flies—Bauman, 9th
  • Animal Farm—Bauman, 9th
  • The Catcher in the Rye—Wells, 10th
  • The Prince of Tides—Wells, 10th
  • Things Fall Apart—Wells, 10th
  • The Sun Also Rises—Fels, 11th
  • Slaughterhouse-Five—Fels, 11th
  • Catch-22—Bell, 12th
  • Heart of Darkness—Bell, 12th —Madeleine Wright


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