Ban Pooh?

Q. Each year when we mark Banned Books Week in my middle school reading class, I’m always astonished to see that Winnie-the-Pooh has appeared on a list of banned books, though not one from ALA. Why is this book listed?

A. Reading the original A. A. Milne Pooh books aloud to my children was always popular in our house, so I’m surprised, too. My first stop to research the question was the Banned Books Resource Guide, as this print-only publication captures not only those titles that have been banned or challenged in the past, but all of those for which the Office for Intellectual Freedom has documented challenges. There are no A. A. Milne books of any title listed.

I think what has happened is this: Until the last year or so, we had on our website a page with the 100 titles on the Radcliffe list and highlighted those that had been challenged. But people didn’t read the fine print and thought all of them had been challenged. So, while Winnie-the-Pooh is listed as #22 on the list of classics, no challenges have been recorded. We have revised the page so that the list is presented showing only the challenged titles—still a lengthy list. To be fair, there is a blog post about possible reasons the Winnie the Pooh books might have been challenged, but these are not enough to push it into the “frequently challenged” zone.

The point of using the Radcliffe list, of course, is to show how many of the “best” books have been challenged, which just reinforces this statement Judith Krug, inaugural director of our Office for Intellectual Freedom, made in marking the 25th anniversary of Banned Books Week: “People don’t challenge materials that don’t say something to the reader. If you look over the materials that have been challenged and banned over the years, they are the materials that speak to the condition of the human being, that try to illuminate the issues and concerns that affect human beings. They’re books that say something, and they’re books that have meaning to the reader. Innocuous materials are never challenged.” [“Marking 25 Years of Banned Books Week,” Curriculum Review 46, no. 1 (Sept. 2006)].

And then in 2013, we became aware of a list that had been circulating online for a few years, which meant well, but which adds more books that have actually not been challenged or banned at a library or school. This list added in book titles from the lists of Rationales for Teaching Challenged Books prepared by the NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English. I alerted NCTE, and Millie Davis, NCTE Senior Developer, Affiliated Groups and Public Outreach, replied:

The NCTE Rationales list is for books commonly taught, not commonly challenged (although many of them have been).  The idea is that all teachers/schools should have rationales for the texts they use.  I don’t know where the student found The Secret Within listed but if our rationales list were merged into a list of challenged books, that’s a big mistake that I hope you can help fix.

This list, made up of books both challenged and not, but presented without that distinction and therefore as if all of them had, was copied and pasted into the LibraryThing banned books forum and was used as the source of the list of Challenged Children's Books found here and the Banned and Challenged Books LibGuide found here. And it's likely the list appears elsewhere...

We have developed several pathfinders to researching reasons why books have been challenged and banned; see Why was this book banned? for one discussion. Additional resources appear on our page, Researching Banned and Challenged Books.

But if the book you're researching isn't found in any of these places, check these "extended" lists with the NCTE rationale titles mistakenly included. If you do find the book there, it's a good chance the book has never been challenged at all. Contact the staff here at library@ala.org for further assistance.