Banned Book Club: Winnie the Pooh

Title: Winnie-the-Pooh

Published: 1926

Author: A. A. Milne, Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard

Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Milne’s book is also #22 on the the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. Book #25 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: I can’t believe I’m writing this, so I’m not going to comment just give you links.

  • Banned in a UK school (~2003) because it might offend Muslims (something about Piglet?). This rationale has also come up in US, Russia, & Turkey. (Didn’t see any record of actually offended Muslims on this topic.)
  • Talking animals an insult to God (parental group in Kansas, ~2006)
  • Labeled “pro-Nazi” and politically subversive in Russia (~2009) because an image of Pooh wearing a swastika was found among the belongings of a political extremist

First line: “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of this head, behind Christopher Robin.”


I’m sorry people, I’m still stuck on this whole “talking animals an insult to God” thing. Thinking about children’s lit, songs, movies, television – and toys –  what’s left?

Winnie-the-Pooh is a CHARMING story about Edward Bear (aka Winnie the Pooh, aka Pooh) who is both a bear of quite a lot of brains and very little brains, as well as much loved by his very good friend Christopher Robin. He has adventures in the 100 acre woods with his friends Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga & Roo, and the morose mule Eeyore.

Pooh is addicted to honey which leads to high-stakes plot twists. For example, leads Pooh to attempt an aerial takeover (by balloon) of a bee-hive. Also he ends up stuck in a honey jar in a Heffalump trap. On the other hand, empty honey jars end up saving the day sometimes, such as Eeyore’s birthday present and also the escape pod during a local flood.

Banned Book Club: Go Tell It on the Mountain

Title: Go Tell It on the Mountain

Published: 1952

Author: James Baldwin

Challenge status: #36 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #24 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: Challenged in Hudson Falls, NY (1994) and Prince William County, VA (1988) for various reasons including language, sexual themes, violence, and references to rape & degrading treatment of women.

First line: “Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when  he grew up, just like his father.”

Synopsis: One of the things I liked best about this book, which is a dramatic but finely tuned depiction of the black experience in mid-20th century America, is that it is set in Harlem. Even though the roots of the family’s stories wind back down to the South, something about being set in NYC made the book feel more accessible to me than some of the other books I’ve read this summer working through similar themes. What was most striking for me in regards to the narrative was the multi-generational approach Baldwin employed: the parents and grandparents were living in the South – though slavery was over the shadow of that period still existed. And the children in the story are coming into their own decades later – in NYC – but cultural norms and expectations on them are still emerging and ambiguous. The over-arching uncertainty in the community heightens the tensions and increases the focus on the intra-family dynamics.

Besides the topics of race and status/income which were common topics of the books I’ve been reading coming out of this time period, I thought the book had an interesting perspective on religion/faith as well as gender dynamics. The family is involved in an evangelical (urban) church; the father (Gabriel) was a preacher down South, now acts as a deacon, but his son (John) is expected to follow in his footsteps. However John still needs to get saved, and as an adolescent his faith hasn’t quite bridged the gap yet. On gender, the book takes a round robin perspective between the main characters – first part is from the eyes of the eldest son John, then from the POV of the aunt Florence, the father Gabriel, the mother Elizabeth, and back to John. Viewing some of the same events and conflicts from additional perspectives lends some depth.

“No,” she said, “I ain’t changed. You ain’t changed neither. You still promising the Lord that you going to do better–and you think whatever you done already, whatever you doing right at that minute, don’t count. Of all the men I ever knew, you’s the man who ought to be hoping the Bible’s all a lie–’cause if that trumpet ever sounds, you going to spend eternity talking.” – Go Tell It on the Mountain (James Baldwin)

I think the round-robin device also provides depth (or bas-relief, anyway) to the key themes of the book: choices, consequences, and circumstance.  The choices may seem big or small at the time, but the consequences live far beyond that initial “splash” and ripple across lives and, in some cases, generations. Yet, the characters are constrained by their circumstances. Not so constrained that situations can be blamed on fate alone, but acutely constrained by the circumstances in which the choices are being made available. A subtle distinction.


Banned Book Club: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Published: 1937

Author: Zora Neale Hurston

Challenge status: #23 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #23 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 1997, the book was challenged in Brentsville, VA for language & sexual explicitness. More info here.

First line: “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”


This is a beautifully composed book that is both significant “literature” and a satisfying story. Set in the South in the early 20th century, Hurston creates a distinct world (through development of a rich character set, detailed setting, and effective use of language) and weaves into it an unconventional, but still modernly crafted, coming-of-age story.

The main character, Janie, is a beautiful young woman who has many choices made for her early in life, and due to her good looks has both higher and more limited prospects than other people in her community. Janie was raised by her grandmother, who’s primary aspiration for Janie is to simply marry “well”, though Janie is not really let in on the plan till she’s almost at marrying age. Janie’s parentage is only vaguely described, but her absent father is the explanation for her (oft described) light skin.

Only after the death of her second husband does Janie really come into her own, figuring out who she is on her own terms rather than being defined by those around her. Still, even as a newly minted adult/individual, Janie finds herself again on love’s doorstop (with a much younger man – scandal) and needs to figure out yet again how to navigate a relationship. Which sacrifices are for the good of the relationship? Which sacrifices are a denial of self? There are no easy answers and the book is rooted in realism rather than idealism.

Hurston (1891-1960) was a brilliant talent – a Barnard graduate who applied her talents to writing, folklore, and anthropology. At age 26 she had not yet finished high school (having left home at 13 after her father remarried) so she simply told the school district in Baltimore she’d been born 10 years later – so that she could qualify for free public education. (And then she went on to Barnard – awesome). This book was written over the course of 7 weeks while she was on a research trip in Haiti.

Check-in, an unexpected surprise, and Round 4

Photo Jul 01, 8 51 14 PM2

Hi there, I finished Round 3 and have come to the conclusion that it takes longer to write up my thoughts than it does to actually read the books. Well, sort of. Anyway, Round 3 was basically “20th century ennui” and my foray into comics (aka graphic novels). Here they are in case you are interested in reading back:




So now I’ve begun – well I’m almost finished actually – with Round 4, which is composed of works from amazing African American authors mixed in with the children’s classics that I found have been the target of banning attempts. It has really been interesting to read the classics in a row; they all early to mid 20th century points of view but through very different voices. The children’s books I haven’t started yet, but all re-reads and I hope will be a good break. (Round 5 is going to be tough)

Round 4

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Go Tell it on the Mountain
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Giving Tree
  • Invisible Man
  • Song of Solomon
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • The Lorax
  • Where’s Waldo
  • A Light in the Attic


And the unexpected surprise was quite lovely, as I was going through the list of Banned & Challenged comics hosted by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund,  I found Tank Girl on the list. I actually really like Tank Girl but had never read the whole series, so I checked to see if there were any anthologies or such available. Instead I found Tank Girl: The Odyssey  and Tank Girl: Apocalypse . I cannot tell you how geek-thrilled I was to get Tank Girl: The Odyssey and realize Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett had in fact retold the story of Joyce’s Ulysses. (I talk a little bit about Joyce’s book in this post). In any case, it was lovely and – befitting Tank Girl – bizarre.  Deserving of a whole post on both Ulysses and Tank Girl. But after round 4,  I think. In which I’m going to be working on the art of writing book reviews in 20 minutes or less.


Banned Book Club: Stuck in the Middle

Title: Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age

Published: 2007

Author: Ariel Schrag (Editor)

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #22 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 2011 “Stuck in the Middle” was challenged in the Dixfield, Maine school district. It was kept on the shelves but students need to get parental permission before they can borrow the book from the library. The complaint cited language, sexual materials, and drug references. More info here.

First line: “Rebecca Ziff and I were best friends.”


“Stuck in the Middle” is a collection of short comic-style stories about adolescence. Some of them are poignant, others more simplistically banal, but they all share a certain awkwardness of emotion many of us remember from late-childhood/early-teenager-dom.

Most of the stories have some silliness and humor woven in, others are dark and foreboding. Almost all of them invoked the “I just don’t fit in” sentiment. Eric Enright’s “Anxiety”, simply drawn about a stressed out little boy, made me sad – as did some of the other representations of kids struggling to deal with bullies, poverty, or biology. Gabrielle Bell’s “Hit Me”, a depiction of kids with an unstable home life was well-done.

But my favorite was Ariel Bordeaux’s “The Disco Prairie Rebellion of ’81”. You get down with yo’ bad self, in your schoolbus yellow mullti-zippered pants and purple t-shirt, new-waving your way past the horde of preppies at your suburban school. Such a nice moment, even if just in a comic, when a person realizes that not only do they not fit in with the in-crowd, but they like their own path better.

Banned Book Club: Blankets

Title: Blankets

Published: 2003

Author: Craig Thompson

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #21 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 2006 the book was challenged was challenged in the Marshall, Missouri Public Library, the complaint alleged the book contained pornographic images that might be seen by children, and that people who frequented pornographic bookstores might start showing up at the library. The board of trustees of the library ultimately voted to retain Blankets, and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

First line: “When we were very young, my little brother Phil and I shared the same bed.”


592 pages! That is a LONG comic book. But the book isn’t long in a “look at me, I’m spinning this out so it will take you a long time to read” way, it’s long in a “I’m taking my time to paint a picture” way. Blankets is an award winning (3 Harvey awards and 2 Eisner awards in 2004) autobiographical graphic novel, that takes us through Craig’s coming of age, growing up in Christianity, falling in love, and then falling out of love (both with his first love and with his faith).

There are definitely some uncomfortable spots; regrets on his relationship with his younger brother, some early traumas and disappointments, and challenges in his relationships with his parents. While his experience and voice is unique, we can all relate to those key events from childhood that shaped that time and who we’ve become.

Most interesting is the depiction of Craig’s “letting go”. As he heads-off to art school he lets go of his past; he releases his childhood, his family dramas, lost love, and lost faith – and experiments, and tries to figure out what his new path is. I love this scene where he’s moved to the big city:

“On my first visit to the public library, I was like a kid at a candy store where all the candy was free.”

*I’m allowed to read any book* [he thinks to himself].

“I gorged myself until my tummy ached.”

*…and yet, I’m still hungry.*

I love this imagery of gorging oneself on new ideas. Obviously I can related a bit, this summer, as I’ve been trying to max out my library card. I can relate to the strange feeling of gluttony of being immersed in these amazing worlds that writers have created for us. Though the books I’m reading are new, the library-induced joy/exhilaration makes me feel connected to an old feeling.

In the end, though, I think Craig decides that we don’t escape our past so much as identify patterns in our overall narrative, and choose which patterns to repeat (as ritual, or incorporated into our sense of self) versus patterns we try find new and subtle variations on.

Banned Book Club: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

Title: Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

Published: 2002

Author: Frank Miller & Lynn Varley

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #20 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 2010 the book was challenged in an Ohio library for containing offensive language, sexism, & being “inappropriate for age group”. The book was retained and now there are TWO copies in the young adult section. Yeah Canton, Ohio! More info here.

First line: “It’s been three years since, in the eyes of those who live above, I died.”


From Henry Miller to Frank Miller, yeah baby. This a Batman of a near-future, dystopian world full of inane talking heads all spewing variants of the same message, heros underground or in hiding, and Lex Luthor with the whole world on remote control. We get to meet the super-daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman, Catgirl, and the controversial “Superchix” – a band on the verge of getting banned. And Batman is gritty, and Wonder Woman is truly a queen of the Amazons, and Superman is conflicted…and there’s the Green Lantern, and the Flash, and Plastic Man…

The book keeps a relentless, frenetic pace, with the art as jagged and clipped and “noisy” as the constant sidelong commentary of the new media. Which makes it feel…timely.

Continue reading

Banned Book Club: Tropic of Cancer

Title: Tropic of Cancer

Published: Published in Paris in 1934; banned in many English-speaking countries, then published in US in 1961

Author: Henry Valentine Miller (1891-1980)

Challenge status: #84 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #19 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: That Tropic of Cancer’s graphic treatment of sexuality is “frank” or “candid” is an understatement (the book revels in it), immediately upon publication in France (1934) the book was banned in the US and thus prohibited from being imported by US Customs (similar situation w/Joyce’s Ulysses, discussed earlier on this blog). In 1961 when Grove Press published the book in the US, over 60 obscenity lawsuits in over 21 states were brought against booksellers that sold it. In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Grove Press, Inc. v. Gerstein overruled state court findings that Tropic of Cancer was obscene. The book was banned in Turkey in 1986.

First line: “I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.”


Self-indulgent. That was a vague feeling I had as I read through Henry Miller’s roughly autobiographical account of his time as a bohemian artist living in Paris in the early-30’s. The reader is pitched into a garish, seemingly infinite loop of sex, drinking, and schmoozing from the basest, most amoral and disinterested point of view. All the sex and drinking and hijinks are what got this booked labeled as obscenity, of course, but it’s not long before the details drop from salacious to simply dirty – and more mechanical than passionate. Miller even makes sure to account the details of the socially transmitted infections and the treatments required, as his characters continue their merry rampages with good girls, bad girls, and working girls. It is base, but it is boring.

Which is, of course, Miller’s point.

Continue reading

Banned Book Club: Persepolis

Title: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Published: 2003

Author: Marjane Satrapi

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #18 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 2013 (i.e. this year), Persepolis was removed from classrooms in the Chicago area. This case is a bit confusing as there seem to have been some attempts to remove it from school libraries as well as (specifically) seventh-grade classrooms. The book was considered inappropriate for seventh (and potentially 8th-10th graders) due to graphic depictions of violence & torture.

First line: “This is me when I was 10 years old”


Persepolis is an amazing book, a memoir and coming-of-age story set in Iran during the Iranian Revolution. Originally published in France (2000), the book was released in English in 2003 and immediately drew praise (made Time Magazine  and NY Times lists for notable books of the year it was published). It was also adapted to a feature length movie (animated) in 2007 (nominated for an Oscar and won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize).

Marji is a student, a prophet, a trouble-maker, a revolutionary, a martyr, a matchmaker, and a punk rocker. In other words she’s a little girl in the process of growing up. Growing-up in a country that is in the is in the process of transitioning from something rigid, to something chaotic, and morphing into something even more fervent and confusing. Marjane Satrapi teases out insightful, clever vignettes that illustrate the hilarious and the heartbreaking with equal grace. How eye-opening to see both the small realities (introduction of the veil, how children played, how michael jackson was interpreted by iranian hipsters) and the more dramatic turns of fate (routine bombings, cultural vigilantes, disappearing friends and relatives).

I guess what I like about Persepolis is that it provides a clear illustration how quickly cultures can change around us: initially Marji was growing up in a progressive, modern culture that encouraged her mind and gave her freedom to explore. She had many advantages simply due to her family’s outlook and philosophy, but also because society-at-large flexed enough to allow for some independent growth and experimentation. And as culture morphed, as fear became more pervasive, small freedoms previously assumed disappeared or became restricted enough that growth became difficult and experimentation dangerous. And sadly this new danger appeared for Marji just as she was in adolescence and full of questions, wildness, and rebellion.

Another takeaway for me is how small freedoms were sacrificed for personal safety, and then most freedoms and all personal safety were also lost. But how could things have turned out differently? I wonder about this. This was not a story of a small, meek populace suddenly overwhelmed by oil money & greed, my impression has always been that there were well-educated and strong-willed people that ended-up undermined by both profits and prophets.

Understanding the context and influences in play would obviously require more work, more history, and probably some classes in political science. The power of Persepolis is something more subtle: the personal narrative and experience intertwined with cultural phenomena as they occurred.

Marjane, I love that you became an aerobics instructor. Punk rock forever.

Banned Book Club: Ice Haven

Title: Ice Haven

Published: 2001

Author: Daniel Clowes

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #17 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: The case study refers to a Connecticut case wherein a parent of a student (a high-school freshman who selected the book to read for a class project from a number of options in the classroom library) filed complaints with both the school and the police, describing the book as pornographic and making allegations against the teacher for making the book available to students (suggested predatory motives). The teacher resigned. No charges were filed.

First line: “It’s not as cold here as it sounds.”


Ice Haven is a funny little book (funny strange more so than funny ha ha), it is a series of short comics that are vaguely related, occurring around the same time in the same town. The main unifying influence is that a local boy goes missing; a few of the characters are directly involved or interested in his disappearance. Other than that what connects the comics is that the characters are profoundly disconnected (socially) and seem to be very lonely.

If the art style seems familiar, it is probably because Clowes also wrote “Ghost World“, which became fairly popular especially when it was turned into a movie (starring Thora, Scarlett, and Steve Buscemi). I like the Leopold & Loeb tie-in, and the appearance of the nerdy but informative comic book critic (Clowes decides to forego subtlety and write-in a character to break down the fourth wall in defense of comic books and the narrative style of the book.