The Free Press, Mankato, MN


April 21, 2014

Books can be crunchy fun for all

Why it matters: Telling people what they shouldn't read usually has the opposite effect. Many of the books that make the ALA's challenged list are best-sellers or classics.

Talk about extra-crunchy fun!

If you haven’t heard of Dave Pilkey’s series of books that take kid humor in all of its silliness, grossness and creativity to the max, you have now. The “Captain Underpants” books topped the American Library Association’s list of being the most “challenged” material last year.

The reason the Pilkey books made the list included “offensive language and material unsuited for its targeted age group.” And thanks to those criticisms, kids are going to grab those books off shelves faster than spit sliding down an ice-encrusted ladder.

In reality, kids don’t pay attention to the annual list of challenged books because they instead find out about books from each other. Adults do that too, but avid book readers and supporters of free speech love the ALA’s annual announcement because it gives them a chance to update their must-read lists.

A challenge is defined by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.” Last year 307 challenges occurred. Among other works that made the list were “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie.

So it’s not just potty humor that gets books on the the list. Violence, language and sex are other reasons cited.

Of course, you can pull a line or excerpt out of any piece of writing and make it appear controversial or inappropriate when it’s not considered in context. That was part of the discussion in Brainerd last week as a parent came to the School Board with a list of offensive language taken from a book 10th-graders were reading for a class. The parent said he counted 108 profanities and 12 racial slurs, according to the Brainerd Dispatch. The book was John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” a classic that nearly all students tackled in high school without permanent damage. As it should, the board voted to keep the book in the class.

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