Is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark the Most Banned Book Ever?

Posted on Posted in Scary Censorship

One of the big topics for this documentary about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the practice of banning and challenging of children’s books. How is it done, why is it done, how could it be different, and of course, is there even ever a good reason to ban a book? The American Library Association’s list of most challenged books has become the most universal list for looking at banned and challenged books in America. The list is generally full of children’s books and books that may be something that is read in high schools, since parents attempting to ban books in their public or school libraries are often the most common mechanism for books being banned.

The interesting thing that I have been encountering as I begin to talk about this documentary is the question of how I can “bill” the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. It is listed as the most banned book between 1990-1999 and remained at #7 in 2000-2009. It was #1 on the list for several years in the 1990s. In the 21st Century there are a number of other books that have taken the mantel for most frequently banned… Harry Potter is often up there, and recently the book And Tango Makes Three is often high on the list because of the presence of a homosexual couple (animals though they may be). So although Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is no longer top on the list, for the last 25 years that the American Library Association has been compiling a list, it has been a major title on the list. The original books are over 20 years old at this point, and yet they still show up on the lists amongst more widespread and known books such as Harry Potter and Huckleberry Finn. That says something.

So is it the most banned children’s book of the modern era?

It’s a tricky designation, but one that could be argued for this book series. Underlying all of this is the fact that the American Library Association unfortunately doesn’t have a way to track every single challenge. As they state on their website, “The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. We estimate that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported. Therefore, we do not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges.” So no matter what, there isn’t any perfect way of tracking what is the most banned.

One thing you can take solace with is the fact that in America, we DO have a way of tracking the banning of books. According to early interviews and discussion with those with the American Library Association, most countries really don’t monitor or keep track at all and banning is actually considered very widespread and unreported.

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