A display set up at Carroll Public Library for Banned Books Week features books that have been challenged in Iowa in recent years.
A display set up at Carroll Public Library for Banned Books Week features books that have been challenged in Iowa in recent years.
September 25, 2013

When swear words, racism, sex and homosexual penguins are written into the pages of a book, some readers bristle.

In recognition of Banned Books Week, Carroll Public Library is highlighting books that have been challenged in Iowa recently, as well as those that have been banned throughout the country for years.

Acknowledging - and even embracing - books that have raised eyebrows is important, because readers in many countries don't have the option to do so, said Kelly Fischbach, director of Carroll Public Library.

Often, she said, emphasizing controversial themes in books, rather than skimming over them, can lead to important teaching moments.

For instance, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," written by Iowa author Peter Hedges, includes a sexually explicit scene and was challenged by a Carroll High School parent several years ago.

A question that usually comes up during discussions surrounding a challenged book is if those protesting the content have read the entire book, Fischbach said.

"They probably only read a paragraph or two, or a page or two," said Fischbach, who serves as the intellectual freedom chair of the Iowa Library Association. "So we start by saying, 'OK, have you read the whole book?'"

Doing so highlights important themes. For instance, the character in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" later regrets the scene parents protested, saying it skewed his view of relationships.

"That's such an important message for high-school boys, who want to have sex with everyone who walks through the door," Fischbach said.

In 2012, some of the most challenged books across the country were "Captain Underpants," "Thirteen Reasons Why," "Fifty Shades of Grey," "And Tango Makes Three" and "The Kite Runner." Some of those books have been banned in Iowa in the past 10 years as well.

Those challenging the books cited offensive language, sexual content, homosexuality, racism, drugs and alcohol, violence and suicide in the books. Many challenges stated the books were unsuitable for a particular age group.

A display in the library's entrance features books that have been commonly challenged, gathered under a sign stating, "Think for yourself, and let others do the same," and featuring reading robots.

"Banned Books Week is a way for us in the library world to say, 'Don't take your First Amendment rights for granted,'" Fischbach said. "It is unique to our country that you can choose to read what you want. We can't take that lightly."