The American Library Association (ALA) has released its annual survey of offenses to "intellectual freedom," the books whose place in public schools and public libraries is the most "challenged" by the public. Leading that list for the second straight year is the children's book "And Tango Makes Three," about a penguin family with two daddies.
Several books on the ALA list are perennially controversial, from "Huckleberry Finn" with its racial issues to Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" with its rape scenes. Some controversial tomes are newer, like atheist Philip Pullman's anti-God "The Golden Compass."
Overall, the ALA reported the number of library challenges dropped from 546 in 2006 to 420 last year, well below the mid-1990s, when complaints topped 750. But oddly, the ALA also acknowledged that its data collection is terrible: For every "challenge" listed, about four to five "go unreported."
It is quite apparent who the ALA believes to be the heroes and villains of this struggle. There are the avatars of intellectual freedom, the brave souls who champion open-mindedness, and then there are the censorious busybodies. Some have made the obvious point that challenging libraries to provide titles they're not stocking would turn the tables and make people realize that librarians can also be censorious in the titles they choose not to display. The mere act of selecting some books and excluding others is a "censorious" act.
Press accounts leave out that the ALA not only disdains the public "challenges," it lobbies on the books' behalf. In 2006, the two-penguin-daddy "And Tango Makes Three" was honored as an ALA Notable Children's Book. The librarians' group isn't simply for "freedom." It's for sexual liberation, promoting the "non-traditional," and it takes offense at the idea that parents might not want their children discussing homosexuality in kindergarten. Simon & Schuster, the publishers of "Tango," offer discussion questions about the book on their website. One says: "Tango has two fathers instead of the traditional mother and father. Do you have a nontraditional family, or do you know someone who does?"
Already we can predict how the ALA next year will complain about any objection to a book called "Uncle Bobby's Wedding," the story of a young guinea pig who worries that her Uncle Bobby won't play with her anymore after he "marries" his boyfriend Jamie. The book ends at the "wedding," with Chloe as the enthusiastic flower girl.
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