USA: Michigan school bans novel from book fair

4 November 2015

An elementary school in Michigan has banned the 12th novel in the ‘Captain Underpants’ series of books from its book fair due to a main character being gay, news station WXYZ reported.

Dr Barry Martin, superintendent of Monroe Public Schools, explained that the publishing company, Scholastic, notified the school that one of their titles may be “a little controversial”, because in the book, ‘Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-lot’, one of the main characters, Harold, grows up to be an artist who lives with his domestic partner, Billy.

The Arborwood Elementary School’s parent-teacher organisation made the decision to ban this particular book in the series as they “felt it was necessary that if this book was going to be purchased, the parent needed to be involved” since parents wouldn’t be at the fair, the school’s superintendent said.

The book, however, would be available to students online, and other titles in the series would be at the fair which ended on 29 October 2015.

“Most frequently challenged books”
This isn’t the first time that Dav Pilkey’s books have been deemed controversial. According to the American Library Association it topped their list of most frequently challenged books in 2012 and 2013. At that time, Business Insider reported that parents deemed the illustrated series had ‘offensive language’ unsuitable for children in grades 2-4, the target age of the books.

In a related event, a Mattoon High School in the state of Illinois banned Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’, from an English class due to “extremely vulgar passges”, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

Constitutional concerns

An open letter opposing the removal of the acclaimed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’:

Library Journal highly recommends the book, saying that “Foer’s excellent second novel vibrates with the details of a current tragedy but successfully explores the universal questions that trauma brings on its floodtide.

Removing a book with recognized literary and pedagogical merit — one that has been taught for several years and is listed on the Mattoon Community District #2’s curriculum list — simply because some disapprove of it not only disserves the educational interests of students but also raises serious constitutional concerns. Government officials, including public school administrators, may not prohibit “the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Texas v. Johnson (1989); see also Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico (1982) (“local school boards may not remove books simply because they dislike the ideas contained in these books.”)” (…)

Excerpt of a letter to the school’s principal Mrs Michele Sinclair, sent on 28 October 2015 and signed by:

• Svetlana Mintcheva, Director of Programs, National Coalition Against Censorship
• Chris Finan, Director, American Booksellers for Free Expression
• Judy Platt, Director, Free Expression Advocacy Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
• Charles Brownstein, Executive Director, Association of American Publishers
• Millie Davis, Director, Intellectual Freedom Center, National Council of Teachers of English
• Lin Oliver, Executive Director, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
• Barbara M. Jones, Director, Office of Intellectual Freedom American Library Association


» The Guardian – 29 October 2015:
Uproar after US high school pulls Jonathan Safran Foer novel

» Los Angeles Times – 27 October 2015:
‘Captain Underpants’ banned from school book fair over gay character

» WXYZ – 23 October 2015:
Newest ’Captain Underpants’ banned from local book fair

» Business Insider – 26 September 2013:
Why ‘Captain Underpants’ is the most banned book in America

» American Library Association:
Top ten frequently challenged books lists of the 21st century

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