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)].

By the way, we have developed several pathfinders to researching reasons why books have been challenged and banned; see for one discussion.