Challenging Books in America
Reading material has been challenged for decades in America. Many books have been banned from public libraries or school libraries. Books are often
questioned because of their content for the intended audience. Most of the time the challenge is intended to protect
children from ideas and information that adults perceive as inappropriate. The
reasons for challenging books is because of sexually explicit material, offensive language, unsuitability
for the age group, the occult theme or promoting occults or Satanism, violence, promoting homosexuality, or promoting
a religious viewpoint” (ALA 2004). Several other reasons for challenging
books are for nudity, racism, sex education, and anti-family issues. Seventy-one
percent of the challenges were about materials in school libraries or classrooms. Some of the same authors appear on
the banned book list yearly. Authors such as J. K. Rowling, Judy Blume, Robert Cormier, John Steinbeck, and Stephen King appear
the most often.
Over the years, different groups of people have made attempts “to suppress anything that conflicts with or anyone
who disagrees with their own beliefs.” Parents seem to challenge materials
their children read more than any other group. According to Nat Hentoff, who wrote Free Speech for Me—But Not for
Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other, “censorship is the strongest drive in human
nature" (ALA 2004).
Challenges attempt to remove or restrict materials due to objections brought to the attention from persons who
question the material. The removal or restriction not only involves the family of the challenger, but also keeps this information
from others. Most challenges have become unsuccessful because librarians, teachers, parents, students, and other concerned
citizens have made commitments to see that people have a right to read what they desire. Today, there is a Banned Book Week
promoting the reading of the books on the banned list.
My Brother Sam is Dead is on the top 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990- 2000 (ALA 2004). The book
is about the American Revolution and how a teenage boy, Sam, wants to fight for what he believes in. His father does not want
him to join in the fighting and does not want to loan him the gun he needs to do the job. Sam defies his father and joins
the army anyway and comes back to take the gun. The book is often challenged because of the disrespect the young boy had for
his father. Many believed the book taught defiance to children. For example,
children hopefully are taught to obey their parents and in the book, Sam argued with his father. One conversation from one
such argument states, “God meant man to obey. He meant children to obey their fathers, he meant men to obey their kings"
(Collier 1974). Mrs. Meeker, the mother, argued that, “Sam isn’t really rebellious, just too quick with his tongue.”
One such conversation is much like children are seen today, Sam “at 16, had been away at college for almost a year,.
. .he thought he was a grownup, and he didn’t want anybody to tell him what to do” (Collier 1974). Parents do
not wish their children to learn this type of defiance.
Graphic scenes of the war coming to the hometown appear in the book. Most of the war scenes are about what one would
see in the war. Another challenge is because of the violence that adults do not believe children should be reading about.
Yet, they are not against their child seeing movies like this on television or playing war games on PlayStation or Xbox (Alibris
Some of the scenes in My Brother Sam is Dead are very graphic. One example takes place when soldiers came
to Redding to look for extra guns to use. They show up at the tavern that the
Meekers own, and when Mr. Meeker tells them he does not have a gun because his son took it to war with him; they do not believe
him. He was told to “watch your tongue or I’ll slice it out.” One of the soldiers took a sword and “whipped
the flat side of the blade across Father’s face" (Collier 1974). Seen around
the town were “fresh bodies in the field.” Graphic scenes exist throughout the novel.
Another example is at the point in the story where a man came to warn others the British were approaching. Tim Meeker
saw a man come riding over the rise of the road. He saw the soldiers and turned his horse around and shots were fired. Tim
saw “his head jerk backwards, and he slid off the back of his horse” and was then left for dead. Since he was
not dead, Tim ran for the doctor. During his trip across the township, he saw
soldiers in Captain Starr’s house. Captain Starr owned a slave, Ned, and was the Rebel leader in town. Ned was
at the window ready to shoot any soldiers who came near. Tim saw a soldier stab Ned with his bayonet. As Ned raised his gun
to shoot, the soldier raised his bayonet and the sword “flashed in a bright arc. . . and Ned’s head jumped off
his body and popped into the air” (Collier 1974).
A very graphic scene from the story occurs when Sam Meeker was accused of being a cattle thief and sentenced to
be shot. Tim and many of the townspeople appear for the execution. “Three
soldiers stood so close their gun muzzles were almost touching Sam’s clothes.” The guns went off and “Sam
slammed backwards. He hit the ground on his belly and flopped over on his back. He lay there shaking and thrashing about.
They had shot him so close, his clothes were on fire. He went on jerking with flames on his chest. He went on jerking until
another soldier shot him again. Then he stopped jerking” (Collier 1974).
Another reason the books are challenged is because of the language. Many adults do not want children to read words in
a book that they would not want their child speaking, or about various acts they do not want them to learn from others.
This book uses the word “damn” many times throughout the book, takes the name Jesus or God in vain, talks of drinking
with girls, mentions lasciviousness, and
uses the terms “bastard” and “Nigger.” All of these terms could be offensive to someone (Collier
Scenes can often be graphic in books, and language and actions of characters may not be close to what is found acceptable
by society. How can someone fight to ban books, when the material on television
and video games are not challenged as often? The video games and the materials on television are often much more graphic.
Which would you prefer, that your child read something graphic, saw something graphic on television, or play a game where
the killing of others takes place? Parents claim their right to let the children
in their homes do as they choose for them. Why should one person have the right to pull a book from the shelf because it is
offensive to them, when they could ban their child from reading such literature. Parents should be concerned with the materials
in children’s hands, and this cannot be done if they do not take part in their children’s lives or education.
Books are challenged or banned for various reasons. Today’s society realizes that the first amendment to the
constitution gives one a right to “freedom of speechand press” without fear of being punished. The First Amendment
to the Constitution incorporates five freedoms that Americans have the right to express: speech, press, assembly, petition
and religion. These are guaranteed by the First Amendment. Therefore,
books are written words of the author and should have the same privilege of being heard or read. The author may often find
themselves offending someone by showing too much reality in actions or words used in their books. Not only are printed book
often banned, online materials are also. In 1996, “the telecommunications bill passed by the US Congress included a
provision that prohibited making “indecent” material generally available online.” However, it was later
decided it was unconstitutional in federal court. “U.S. government
officials have begun imposing censorship at the reader’s end instead of the writer’s” (Ockerbloom 1993).
In 2000, the U.S. Congress imposed libraries across the country to filter Internet access or lose funds. This more
or less forced the libraries to adhere to the decision (Ockerbloom 1993). Librarians are attempting to fight back by claiming
“Intellectual Freedom” is for everyone whether rich or poor, educated or in need of education. The right to read
materials of your choice should be yours. No one should have the right to make that choice for you.
The First Amendment guarantees the rights of Americans to freedom of the press. Therefore, books should not be banned
because of their content whether it is violence or language, or some other reason because someone may have found it offensive.
It should be their choice not to read the book, rather than keep someone else from making the choice to read it. My Brother
Sam is Dead is a historical fiction book and depicts many of the graphic scenes that did and could happen during war
times. If someone chooses to challenge books, then television and video games which have the same type of violence and graphic
materials should also be challenged.
Library Association. 2004. 100
Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. <http://ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/bwlinks/100mostfrequently.htm>. Accessed June 28, 2004.
Banned Books: Children’s 1998. Alibris and Bookmate.
James Lincoln and Christopher Collier. 1974. My Brother Sam is Dead. New York:
Collins, Ronald L. “Introduction to the First Amendment Library.” <http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/faclibrary/about.aspx?item=intro_ TFALibrary>. Accessed
July 16, 2004.
John Mark. 1993. The Online Books Page. <Http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/banned-books.html>. Accessed June 25, 2004.