Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Books Week 2009--Historical Fiction Favorites

Today I am featuring two of my favorite historical novels (and their authors) that have been banned/challenged.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

He was born on 5 June 1949 in Cardiff, Wales, the son of a tax inspector. He was educated at state schools and graduated from University College, London, with an Honours degree in philosophy. He was made a Fellow of the college in 1995.

He became a reporter, first with his home-town newspaper the South Wales Echo and later with the London Evening News. While working on the Evening News he wrote his first novel, which was published but did not become a bestseller. He then went to work for a small London publishing house, Everest Books, eventually becoming Deputy Managing Director. He continued to write novels in his spare time. Eye of the Needle was his eleventh book, and his first success. Around 100 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide.

Ken Follett has written under several pen names, including Martin Martinsen, Simon Myles, Bernard L. Ross, Zachary Stone. (Source: Library Thing)

The Pillars of the Earth is on the ALA list of most frequently challenged books of 1990-2000 (#91).

Parents say novel pornographic

By Pete Kendall/

Dr. Ted and Maureen Benke say it was never their intention to try to have the Ken Follett book, “Pillars of the Earth,” banned from the Cleburne High School library.

But they did want it eliminated from a reading list of a CHS senior English class of which their son is a member. And they’re gratified that Cleburne Superintendent Dr. Ronny Beard granted that desire.

“He said an alternate choice [of books] would be made,” Ted Benke told Times-Review editor Dale Gosser on Thursday. “That was this Tuesday.”

“We’re thrilled with the superintendent’s decision to remove the book,” Maureen Benke told Gosser. “We feel he made the right decision for all future students of Cleburne High School and that it was indeed worth the effort to have this kind of outcome.”

Members of Concerned Parents and Citizens, whose membership includes the Benkes, are expected to request time to speak in the public forum segment of Monday’s school board meeting. Likewise, citizens in favor of the book’s inclusion on the reading list. CPAC was formed in early October, when the Benkes filed a grievance against use of the book.

“We started out with four members,” Maureen Benke said. “I can provide you with a list of 900 names now.”

The issue began last summer when English IV dual/AP students were directed to read the Follett book.

“You will be asked to read your novel during the summer and participate in an online discussion with a small group of your peers,” a three-page typed directive from English department chairman Sherri Bell said in part. “There is no definitive timeline concerning the online discussions since everyone reads at different rates, and everyone will have different schedules through the summer. However, I expect everyone to post one entry for each assignment that is at least 7-10 sentences (more if you are so inclined) in length and to respond to two other members of the group (more if you wish).”

The directive also included a statement reading, “Alternate assignment is Edward Rutherford’s “London” if you find reading occasional sex, violence and language unacceptable.”

The Benkes say they didn’t become aware of the sexual content in Follett’s book until their son began reading it.

“We read the book and found it to be pornographic,” Maureen Benke said. “We made an appointment to meet with Mrs. Bell, and Mrs. Bell asked [Prinicipal] Monte Pritchett to be at the meeting, which was fine with nus. At the time of the meeting, we told Mrs. Bell and Mr. Pritchett that we thought the book was inappropriate for curriculum use. We asked them to please remove it from the curriculum. We gave them the reasons we thought the pornographic nature of the book made it unacceptable.”

“The key points we made were that the American Library Association did not recommend the book for anyone under the age of 18,” Ted Benke added, “that the book had no special merit and had not won any awards. It wasn’t on any special list except for Oprah’s Book Club. We checked with approximately 15 school districts in this area including Keller, Southlake and Highland Park, and none of them had the book on their summer reading lists.”

The Benkes said the reading list directive did not include space for parents to voice their objections to the books.

“There is a general belief system in place that parents are ignorant of many things that their children read because of trust,” Maureen Benke said. “We trusted [Bell] to choose reasonable material. Without our knowledge or permission, she was assigning this book to our son.”

Bell did not return a phone call from the Times-Review seeking comment. Pritchett referred all questions to school district spokesperson Lisa Magers.

The Benkes said they also objected to the directive for students to chat about the book in an online format.

“No parental control is too loose for us to be comfortable,” Maureen Benke said.

They said their meeting with Bell and Pritchett culminated “with Mr. Pritchett saying he would read the book,” Maureen Benke said. “We had sent him a list of references for pages to read if he didn’t have time to read the whole book. We understood that. It’s 1,200 pages. I don’t believe we ever got a direct answer whether he had read all the excerpts.”

“He said he had read some reviews,” Ted Benke said, “that maybe there were some racy parts. However, he thought it was okay. He said if we wanted to take it further, we would need to fill out an Exhibit A to go to the curriculum committee to appeal his decision. We started that process around October. We got the material to Dr. [Darlene] Callender [assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction] and asked her to review our grievance.”

The Benkes said Callender initially told them a curriculum committee had ruled in 1998 that the book was acceptable as reading list curriculum.

“She said the school district attorney told her the district would never have to convene on that book again because it had already done so,” Maureen Benke said. “Then we got another call from Dr. Callender’s office, telling us that it had been over 10 years, so the district had consented to form a new committee. They were in the process of forming that committee when the superintendent made his executive decision to excuse the book from the curriculum.”  (Source: Cleburne Times-Review)

My commentary:

Probably my most favorite historical novel of all time, it's a shame that some people (students) will be prevented from reading it.  I think this book is an excellent one to be used as a teaching tool.

Shogun by James Clavell

James Clavell, born Charles Edmund Dumaresq Clavell (10 October 1924 – 7 September 1994) was a British (later naturalized American) novelist, screenwriter, director and World War II veteran and prisoner of war. Clavell is best known for his epic Asian Saga series of novels and their televised adaptations, along with such films as The Great Escape and To Sir, with Love.

Born in Australia, Clavell, was the son of Commander Richard Clavell, a British Royal Navy officer who was stationed in Australia on secondment from the Royal Navy to the Royal Australian Navy. In 1940, when Clavell finished his secondary schooling at Portsmouth Grammar School, he joined the Royal Artillery to follow his family tradition.

Following the outbreak of World War II, at the age of 16 he joined the Royal Artillery in 1940, and was sent to Malaya to fight the Japanese. Wounded by machine gun fire, he was eventually captured and sent to a Japanese prisoner of war camp on Java. Later he was transferred to Changi Prison in Singapore.

Clavell suffered greatly at the hands of his Japanese captors. Changi was notorious for its poor living conditions and according to the introduction to King Rat, written by Clavell's daughter Michaela, over 90% of the prisoners who entered Changi never walked out — although the actual figure was under 1%.[1] Clavell was reportedly saved, along with an entire battalion, by an American prisoner of war who later became the model for "The King" in Clavell's King Rat.

By 1946, Clavell had risen to the rank of Captain, but a motorcycle accident ended his military career. He enrolled at the University of Birmingham, where he met April Stride, an actress, whom he married in 1951.
(Source:  Wikipedia)

Challenged in Fairfax (VA) school libraries by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools for "profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct and torture". (2003) (Source: Marshall University)

My commentary:

I read this many years ago and absolutely loved it.  It is VERY long, but you do not notice because it is so good.  I believe that to be historically accurate, sometimes a historical novel must portray the brutality of the time.  It's a shame that this wonderful book would be challenged for attempting to be historically correct.

If you have not read these books, I highly recommend them if you're looking for a fulfilling reading experience.

Happy (Banned) Reading!


Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. It means so much.

I apologize for word verification, but as soon as I changed the settings from only users with Google accounts, I started receiving a ton of spam comments...within one hour of changing the settings. The bots are on high alert apparently.

  1. I loved Shogun and Gaijin. I've read all of Clavel's books. They're how I learned a lot of what I know about Chinese and Japanese history.

  2. My hair stylist gave me The Pillars of the Earth to read. That book is a tome! She is really conservative, so I'm surprised anyone would want to ban it--I would bet you the people who want to ban it never even read it.

  3. Thanks for commenting! BBW means a lot to me and I'm glad people are taking the time to read and comment =o)

    You're probably right that they have not even read Pillars! I hate when they focus on one incident in a book (in this case, a rape) and don't take the book as a whole. Bad language, violent scenes, etc. do not define EVERY book!

- See more at:
- See more at: