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Researching Banned or Challenged Books: Ban Pooh?

Sources of information about why a particular title has been challenged, with links to lists of challenged or censored titles.

False positives

The ALA Library regularly receives inquiries about why a particular book was banned.  One of the more startling was Winnie the Pooh, a long-beloved tale by A.A. Milne.  With some research, we identified the story behind this and some other false positives.  These explanations, adapted from a blog post originally published in AL Direct, have been updated for this Guide.

The Radcliffe 100

Until 2011 or so, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom had a page on its website listing the 100 titles on the Modern Library's Radcliffe's Rival 100 Best Novels List with those that had been challenged highlighted. Readers of the page missed 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. The Office revised the page so that the list now shows only the challenged titles—still a lengthy list. To be fair, there was a 2011 blog post (no longer retrievable) about possible reasons the Winnie the Pooh books might have been challenged, and more recently, a 2013 BuzzFeed Books post offered the idea that talking animals might be offensive to some. 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 ALA's 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)].

NCTE Rationales for Teaching Challenged Books list

Librarians are not the only ones who face challenges to their choices.  Teachers' choices of classroom reading are also challenged.  The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) offers advice to teachers. The NCTE Rationales list includes titles commonly taught in classrooms--and some of them are challenged.  The organization offers suggestions for developing a rationale for teaching a book and has a list of the titles for which there is already a rationale available.

Staff of the ALA Library have become aware of more than one listing of the combination of the NCTE list with the ALA "most frequently challenged list" (there is some overlap), presenting them all as having been challenged.