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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Shh! Don’t touch that box. It must be dangerous

I was unpacking a library when I found a box labeled: Inappropriate to Shelve. "What does that mean?" I wondered. "Are they worn out? Is there something wrong with them? Are they potentially hazardous chemical journals for would-be terrorists?"

No. It seems they are books that "some people" were afraid might trigger a book challenge so they pulled them off the shelves pre-emptively. Now, take a look at the partial list below and see if you can determine the trends that caused these books to be censored by "some people" without undergoing a proper challenge procedure:

European Art to 1850 by Tony Lucchesi
European Art Since 1850

Human Evolution by Robert Gardner 1999
DK Eyewitness Books: Evolution
Evolution by Alvin Silverstein
The First "Test-Tube Baby"
The Pit and the Pendulum by Poe
The Essential Willem de Kooning by Catherine Morris 1999
The Essential Jackson Pollock by Justin Spring 1998General hazard warning symbol
The Essential Rene Magritte by Todd Alden 1999
The Essential Henri Matisse by Ingrid Schaffner 1998
The Essential Edward Hopper by Justin Spring 1998
What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles Little, Brown 2006
Remnants: The Mayflower Project by K.A. Applegate
Human Body by DK
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Motown Hits: Melody Line, Chords and Lyrics for Keyboard, Guitar, Vocal
This Year It Will Be Different by Maeve Binchy
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
The American Heritage Dictionary 3rd edition
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
Guyaholic by Carolyn Mackler
Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie
Ghost Train by Mowry
Dating and Relating: A Guy’s Guide to Girls by Tara E. Kelly
In the Days of the Salem Witchcraft Trials by Marilynne K. Roach
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (Collector’s Edition in Genuine Leather) 1986
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Brashares
Labyrinth by John Herman 2001
Crushes, Creeps, & Classmates: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Along with Boys by Elizabeth Frankenberger
You Ought to Know: A Guy’s Guide to Sex by Bill Kelly
Pregnancy and Birth by Dianne Hales
Stephen King: People in the News by John F. Wukovits
Victorian Horror Stories by Mike Stocks (beaten up copy)
Cleopatra: The Life of an Egyptian Queen (Graphic Nonfiction beaten up copy)
It’s a Woman’s World: A Century of Women’s Voices in Poetry ed. by Neil Philip
Early Humans by Gallant
Usborne Internet-Linked Library of Science: Human Body
Child Slavery in Modern Times by Shirlee P. Newman
The Miracle of Life by Paramon
Health & Wellness Handbook (Time-Life) Vol 1 & 2
Complete Home Medical Guide (American College of Physicans) DK

What would you do? Put these back on the shelf immediately and wait for any challenges to arise naturally? Re-evaluate the collection to determine if each is appropriate for the collection (grades 6-8)? Withdraw them to prevent controversy? Prominently display these for Banned Book Week? 

I think I’m doing nearly all of those things. I’m not scared of controversy so I don’t plan to continue hiding the evolution books or those that might have an accurate portrayal of the human body. 

I re-read Guyaholic to consider whether I believe this is a true grade nine and up book. Same with "Hello, Groin." I think these might be better matched at the high school right across the street, so I will take them over there if that is more appropriate. Why would I keep them hidden? Either they are for the middle-schooler’s or not. Do any of you have them in your middle school collection?

Why didn’t "some people" follow the district collection development policy? I know the district has one. In my previous libraries, I always had a five-year plan for development based upon the analysis model from Karen Lowe. The library collection where I found this box was purchased in 2001. New collection. I’m trying to understand the reasons here.  

One thing I am certain: I am not starting my time at a new school with a secret shelf of books that I’m afraid someone might object to. What would you do?

AHA! Here is the quote that I must have printed as a poster for my new school library:

“If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all—except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty.”
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy


  1. Sara Kelly Johns says:

    Well, Diane, I would start with your Number 2 question: “Re-evaluate the collection to determine if each is appropriate for the collection (grades 6-8)?” They all sound appropriate to me, some a bit difficult reading level but there are middle schoolers who read above their reading level so that would not disqualify Cry the Beloved Country, for instance. Your third question is the cop-out path and you would never do that, I know. It is so important to not practice self-censorship but, instead, to have carefully selected books for ALL your students. Anyone who heard AASL President-Elect Cassandra Barnett speak at my President’s Program in Anaheim would not argue with that idea. She described the 52 book challenges she faced and then read an e-mail from a gay student who emphasized how a book in her collection literally saved his life. He encouraged her to maintain a high quality , varied collection. She renewed my commitment to intellectual freedom as a core value to our profession!

  2. The third question was definitely the cop-out path and no answer to censorship. Am I the only one who has discovered such a collection lately? The president’s program was fantastic. Self-censorship is a huge danger. Who knows who might be harmed by never reading a certain book? A book could save someone’s life or simply enable someone to view others more compassionately.

  3. TERRI KIRK says:

    I agree that Guyaholic belongs at the high school level. I love Mackler’s books and think they are powerful and empowering for high school girls but I don’t think they are intended for middle schoolers. I have never had a challenged book but I do think that part of it is that I honor my collection policy and work hard to know the books that come in the library. I also know the kids (we’ve only 550 students) and I know that I can tell them a little about the book and let them make the decision whether it is right for them or not. I think if we honor our commitment to our students we will provide them the books that enrich their lives, give them life experiences, books that evoke empathy, books that make them life, and sometimes, books that make their lives seem so much better than the poor victim! I have about 40 of the Lurlene McDaniel books whose titles crack me up–“Baby Alicia is dying”– but the girls love them!

  4. TERRI KIRK says:

    I meant books that make them laugh–not life!

  5. David Goodman says:

    I would certainly put all the art books on the shelves.

    But I must say that as an artist I’m most definitely biased.

  6. The only problem with the art books is that they are undersized and might fall behind so I need to display them better. “Someone” took off the covers so they aren’t very exciting to view. I read the Hopper book and finally understand why his work depressed me and yet attracted so many others. I am absolutely opposed to censoring the art books just in case there is one nude inside. Give me a break, Nashville has this huge “naked people statue” downtown for all to see.

  7. jmyersbook says:

    My vote for most ironic instance of a book to have been found in the box: “In the Days of the Salem Witchcraft Trials.” Censorship (and fear-induced self-censorship) are a persistent for of witch trial that is, unfortunately, still rampant. But boy do I love that John F. Kennedy quote!