STEVENS POINT – Harry Potter isn’t so magical in the eyes of Bishop Raymond Burke and the Diocese of La Crosse.
• The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling for its focus on wizardry and magic.
• The Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for being sexually explicit, using offensive language and being unsuited to its age group.
• “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier (the most challenged book of 1998) for using offensive language and being unsuited to its age group.
• “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou for sexual content, racism, offensive language and violence and for being unsuited to its age group.
• “Taming the Star Runner” by S.E. Hinton for offensive language.
• “Captain Underpants” by Dav Pilkey for being insensitive and unsuited to its age group, as well as for encouraging children to disobey authority.
• “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain for racism, insensitivity and offensive language.
• “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson for offensive language, sexual content and references to the occult or Satanism.
• “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor for insensitivity, racism and offensive language.
• “Julie of the Wolves” by Julie Craighead George for sexual content, offensive language and violence and for being unsuited to its age group.
Source: American Library Association
The boy wizard made the American Library Association’s list of 100 most-frequently challenged books of 1990 – 2000 and Burke’s personal hit list. In December, the diocese sent a letter to its Catholic schools suggesting that Harry Potter may not be suitable for young Catholic readers.
Harry’s getting a special place of honor this week, however, alongside his fellow banned-book miscreants such as Atticus Finch and Jesus. Public libraries throughout central Wisconsin and the rest of the nation are observing Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of books that someone, somewhere finds objectionable. Banned Books Week 2003 continues through Saturday with the theme, Open Books for Open Minds.
The American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom received 515 challenges last year, a 15 percent increase since 2001. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The majority of challenges are reported by public libraries, schools and school libraries.
The number of challenges reflects only the number of reports, said Judith F. Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom. And for each challenge, four or five are not reported.
Harry Potter tops the list of challenged books for the past year, but previous years have seen titles as diverse as “Sex” by Madonna and the Bible catching heat, library officials said.
“You would be surprised sometimes by the things people find offensive,” said Lori Belongia, Marshfield Public Library director.
Someone once asked the Marshfield library to remove all books regarding the Holocaust from its shelves because he didn’t believe it happened, Belongia said. Harry Potter has taken his share of flak because of people’s objections to sorcery, she said, and more recently, someone challenged a book dealing with a sadistic killer.
“We left the material on the shelf,” Belongia said.
That’s not to say that library officials ignore community mores. Some children’s books have been relocated after parents complained that the subject matter was unsuitable for certain age groups, Belongia said.
“A library should have something for everyone, but not everything is for everyone,” she said.
David Schuler, Stevens Point Area Public School District superintendent, agrees it’s a delicate balance.
“It’s so critical to get our students to enjoy reading and to enjoy getting new knowledge,” Schuler said. “It’s our job in education to enable our students to have critical reading skills.”
Stevens Point schools rely on the expertise of Mary Lou Harris-Manske, the district’s reading-language arts coordinator, and library media specialists to select books that are appropriate for students, Schuler said. The books they choose have been reviewed by numerous sources before finally finding a home on school library shelves, he said.
“I think it’s really important for our students to have a broad base of literature to choose from,” Schuler said. “I’m not a big believer in censoring the experts.”
Neither is the Rev. Dan DeRoche, pastor of Student Ministries at Woodlands Church in Plover.
DeRoche concedes some Christians believe in banning books they think are obscene or objectionable. Parents should be the ones who decide which books are appropriate for their children, he said.
“I don’t see anything from a biblical standpoint that says you should burn Harry Potter,” DeRoche said. But he supports parents who say they don’t want their children reading the Harry Potter books because they object to some of the subject matter, he said.
Book World in Wisconsin Rapids is among the area bookstores planning displays promoting Banned Books Week, said Donna Cook, manager. Like area libraries and other bookstores, Book World has had some customers raise objections to the Harry Potter books, she said.
“Censorship, to me, is a very complicated issue,” she said.
Belongia agrees. Harry Potter has its share of critics, but the books by J.K. Rowling also have done much to bolster reading among children and adults, she said.
Banning books gives someone else the power to decide what people can read and which books would be “bad” for people, Belongia said.