It's Banned Books Week, and Inspector Flytrap nearly found himself in a pickle.
The young-readers story book "Inspector Flytrap 2: The President's Mane is Missing" by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell, whose main character is a potted flytrap that solves mysteries, was one two dozen books and items challenged in Oregon libraries during the past year. Even though Inspector Flytrap seemed like a pretty tame picture-book cartoon character, a Multnomah County Central Library patron thought the book "presented the president of the United States in a very disrespectful manner" and had "too much potty talk" to be read by children 6 to 9.
Library staff retained Inspector Flytrap's book for other young readers.
Esther the Wonder Pig also almost got dragged into a tussle. The young pig's story of her two daddies, shown in "The True Adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig" by Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter and Caprice Crane, caused a stir at a Port Orford elementary school. The school principal asked the public library to review the book, and Library Director Denise Willms kept it on the shelves.
Thirteen libraries reported book challenges in 2017-18, according to the Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse, which gathers information on the materials challenges each year and presents a report to the State Library. The 24 book/material challenges in 2017 was the most since 2012, when 27 challenges were reported to the clearinghouse. There were 20 challenges in 2016-17. In 2015-16, there were only nine challenges.
Librarians across the state report the book/material challenges to the clearinghouse and the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, which sponsors the annual national Banned Book Week (Sept. 23 to 29). Last year, the ALA office included hate crimes and library vandalism in its annual report, mostly because of an increase in the crimes after the 2016 presidential election. No Oregon libraries reported hate crimes this year.
According to local reports sent to the clearinghouse, of the 13 libraries involved in the challenges, one was an academic library, eight were public, three were school libraries and one was a combination public/school library. Of the 24 challenges, 23 focused on material (books, magazines and videos) and one focused on a library service.
A dozen of the materials challenged were books, two were graphic novels, seven were videos and one was a magazine, the clearinghouse wrote in its six-page annual report released Tuesday, Sept. 4. Ten of the challenges were by parents, 10 by patrons, one by library staff and one by a school principal. Eighteen of the challenged items were retained by libraries, one was relocated, one is under consideration and two were removed from library collections, according to the report.
Inspector Flytrap's book was one of a handful of challenges in Multnomah County. In June 2017, a grandparent took exception to the way the book portrayed the president (a cartoon horse), and the language used as part of the book's gross-out humor. "I stopped reading near the end when one of the protagonists called the other 'stupid,' " the grandparent wrote on a June 18, 2017, county library challenge form. "I had enough.
"The authors are trying to sell books that appeal to people's lowest levels of behavior. I would not be sad if you lost this book."
Library Director Vailey Oehlke told the grandparent that the Flytrap book authors "were responsible for some of the most popular children's books in recent years." She said the library would keep "The President's Mane is Missing" in the children's collection.
A series of erotic stories in the "Sexy Beast" and "Sexy Sailors" series drew the ire of one Midland Branch library patron, who objected in mid-October 2017 to the books being shelved where anyone could find. The patron wrote in an email to library staff that the books had the "most vile writing imaginable" and asked that they be removed (they weren't).
"I am offended by an organization that would allow this to be circulated to the public," the patron wrote. "We may live in one of the most Hippy Dippy lands in the nation, but come on. We still must retain some standards, don't we? I don't want my tax money spent on this filth."
In an unusual twist, a Kenton Branch library staff member objected in November 2017 to depictions of African-American characters in the book "El Camello Cojito," a retelling of the Christmas story by Gloria Fuentes and Nacho Gomez. "The images of the black wise man are stereotypically racist, utilizing the style of blackface and minstrelsy," the staff member wrote on a challenge form. "It has the potential to hurt children and readers by perpetuating stereotypes of appearance imposed by dominant white culture."
The staff member recommended that the library find other similar Spanish-language books that don't use the stereotype illustrations. The library retained the book.
A well-meaning donation
Esther the Wonder Pig ran into a debate in Port Orford about whether her story was appropriate for young children. Debbie Willms, director of the Port Orford Public Library, said the book was challenged after a library aide read the picture book version to a class of second-graders at Driftwood School (the public library contracts with the Port Orford/Langlois School District on the Southern Oregon Coast to manage school libraries), and was concerned that the story about a same-sex couple adopting a pig was inappropriate for children.
The aide took her concerns to the school principal, who told library staff the book wasn't appropriate and wanted it taken off the school library shelf. Willms reviewed the book and requested a meeting with the district superintendent. The meeting was called off after the superintendent decided to keep the book in the school library.
"Esther and her two daddies live on, in the school library, (and yes, I check to make sure it's still there)," Willms wrote in a Sept. 20 email.
In Portland's Richmond Japanese Immersion Elementary School, Media Specialist Christine Gustafson faced a similar book challenge from a parent who felt the Japanese-language graphic novel "Splatoon 2" was inappropriate for elementary students because of characters' bullying behavior and semi-nude drawings. The parent challenged the book after her child checked it out of the library. The parent also asked to preview similar books before they were circulated, Gustafson said.
"Parents are the final authority on what their own children read," Gustafson said. "If a child checks out and brings home a book that their family feels is not a good fit for them for any reason, of course they can ask the child to return it and get another. I hope there is some conversation around that decision with the child — wondering if the book is too long, too difficult, too scary."
After a review by the school's Japanese-language teachers (they said it was clear the story and the characters' behavior were meant to be "silly"), Gustafson said the school turned down the parent's offer and retained "Splatoon 2." The book (both Japanese and English versions) is part of series that is so popular "it is rarely on the shelf," she said.
In Tigard, the book "Gun: A Visual History," was challenged by a parent of an elementary school student who found the book in the school's library. The parent felt the book "glorifies gun usage," according to Kasey Fernandez, library media specialist for the Tigard Tualatin School District.
Fernandez wrote in an August 2018 challenge form that the book was moved from the elementary school library to a library for older students. It wasn't the first time the book had given library staff trouble, she wrote.
"This was the only elementary school with the book," Fernandez wrote. "The book had caused other issues in the school prior. A teacher even went so far as to hide a copy in their room. This book was a well-meaning donation, but it does not support or current curriculum."
Books/items challenged in 2017-18 were:
• "Bad Timing" by Nicolas Roeg (video)
Objection: Violence, Sexually explicit
• "Christmas Tree" by Flamarion Ferreira (video)
Objection: Horror/Scary to minors
• "El Camello Cojito" by Gloria Fuertes/Nacho Gomez
• "Essential Dykes to Watch Out For" by Alison Bechdel (graphic novel)
Objection: Anti-family, horror/scary to minors, sexually explicit, low library value
• "Founding Fathers: The Men who Shaped Our Nation and Changed the World" by History Channel (video)
Objection: Religious viewpoint
• "Halfway Herbert" by Francis Chan
Objection: Religious viewpoint
• In the Realm of the Senses" by Nagisa Oshima (video)
Objection: Sexually explicit
• "Inspector Flytrap 2: The President's Mane is Missing" by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell
Objection: Offensive language, Political viewpoint
• "Is Mommy?" by Victoria Chang
Objection: Defies authority
• "Layer Cake" by Matthew Vaughn (video)
• "Living Dead Girl" by Elizabeth Scott
• "Sexy Beast" series by Aphrodisia, publisher
Objection: Sexually explicit
• "Sombra" by Ruven Afanador
Objection: Sexually explicit, Nudity
• "Splatoon 2" by Sankichi Hinodeya
Objection: Nudity, Violence
• Teen Vogue by Conde Nast (magazine)
Objection: Sexually explicit
• "This One Summer" by Jillian and Marko Tamaki (graphic novel)
Objection: Offensive language; sexually explicit
• "Tightrope" by Clint Eastwood (video)
Objection: Sexism, Nudity
• "True Adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig" by Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter, Caprice Crane
Objection: Inappropriate for young children
• "Wiener-Dag" by Todd Solondz (video)
Objection: Offensive language, Violence
• "Willy the Champ" by Anthony Browne