Why is the US banning children’s books?

Philip Pullman’s 1990s trilogy His Dark Materials was challenged in the US when it was first published. Now children’s and YA book banning has escalated to an unprecedented rate, writes Jane Ciabattari.

Philip Pullman’s widely acclaimed fantasy novel Northern Lights has been voted sixth in the BBC Culture 100 greatest children’s books of all time poll, and Pullman is the number one living author on the list. Yet when it was first published in the US in 1996, the novel – known in the US as The Golden Compass, and the first book in the trilogy His Dark Materials – was in some parts of the US banned, and by 2008 was the second most challenged book in the US.

Northern Lights won the Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction in the UK in 1995, and in 2019 Pullman was knighted as well as honoured with the 2019 JM Barrie award, marking a “lifetime’s achievement in delighting children”.

Yet the world view presented in Northern Lights and the rest of the trilogy – considered by some as atheist in sentiment – proved too much for some vocal minorities in the US. The American Library Association’s 2008 banned book list identified the title as the second-most challenged book in the country, with objections coming from the Catholic League. In fact the whole trilogy caused outrage in some sections of the US, while in the UK, columnist Peter Hitchens stated that Pullman was “the anti [CS] Lewis, the ones atheists would have been praying for, if atheists prayed.” (CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is also in the BBC Culture poll’s top 10).

The banning of Northern Lights could be considered a precursor to censoring books for “moral”, world view or religious reasons. Now the banning and challenging of books in the US has escalated to an unprecedented level. The ALA documented an unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022, more than 2,500 unique titles, the highest number of attempted book bans since the ALA began tracking censorship data more than 20 years ago. Books for young people that have been targeted for topics such as race, gender and sexuality include Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer, George M Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy.

Why is the US banning children’s books? – BBC Culture

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