Apr 25, 2019
‘Captain Underpants’ Series Stars In This Year’s Banned Book Week; Suck It, ’50 Shades’
It’s the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week again, that time of year when we celebrate literacy’s fight against the censorious prigs who make it their business to make sure that children and even adults are protected from BAD BOOKS. Not badly-written books, of course — those are doing just fine. Many of the books that end up getting pulled from school and public libraries are actually quite good, but they have content that makes some people nervous, like sex or bad words. Not infrequently, they include some genuine classics, like The Grapes of Wrath (burned in 1939 in East St. Louis, and banned many other places) or Slaughterhouse-Five (also burned in Drake, North Dakota, in 1973, and banned most recently — 2011 — from the high school in Republic, Missouri).
This year’s list of the ten most-challenged books has a new #1: the entire Captain Underpants series, a goofy superhero parody written and drawn by Dav Pilkey. These books are challenged for pretty much the same reason that they’re hugely popular with the under-12 set: They are filled to bursting with mild potty humor. That’s it: poots, toots, boogers and the eponymous hero, Captain Underpants, the Waistband Warrior. But apparently they’re threatening enough to all that is decent and holy that they have had to be removed from libraries nationwide, because they contain “offensive language” and are “unsuited for [their] age group.” That last one is just plain wrong, as any parent of a ten-year-old knows — the more honest complaint might be that they’re suited entirely too well to their target audience. Also, some parents object to the deliberate misspellings in the main characters’ homemade comic books, because they fear that their precious punkins will be tainted by loose standards — a complaint that no longer seems to dog Huckleberry Finn.
On the other hand, maybe these books are dangerous. My son, Kid Zoom, loved ’em when he was nine, and now that he’s in high school he’s taking honors everything, but he’s also an occasional writer for Wonkette. So there’s a cautionary tale.
Some other entries on this year’s list of the top ten most-censored books include, at #2, Sherman Alexie’s National Book Award- winning YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has made the list every year after it was published in 2009, Justin Richardson’s gay penguin indoctrination manual And Tango Makes Three (at #5), Toni Morrison’s Beloved, (#10) and the endurance champion of banned books in schools, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark series, which has been unsuited for its age group ever since the first book in the series creeped out young’uns in 1981. I first came across that title in an ALA Banned Book Week listing while I was working on my undergraduate degree in English Education, back in the old days when Ronald Reagan was president and I had a hairline.
Oh, and also, a newcomer to the banned books list for 2013: EL James wretched Fifty Shades of Grey (#4), which started as bad Twilight fan-fiction and became a masturbatory sales phenomenon. The ALA doesn’t say, but we’re going to assume that this one has mostly been challenged at public libraries, since I can’t imagine many school librarians putting it on their Must-Have list. At least, not for the kids. In any case, it’s probably a flasher in the censorship pan, and isn’t likely to even be around long enough for more than another year on the ALA list.
For literary merit, we’d go with Captain Underpants over Fifty Shades anyway.