Spotlight on Censorship: ‘Little Bill’ series
By: Ellie Diaz and Kristin Pekoll
One of the censorship reports that OIF received about the Little Bill series in 2016 noted the book was challenged because of “offensive language.” But the real reasoning goes much deeper than that.
For the first time, one of the Top Ten Challenged Books titles was challenged solely because of the author.
At the end of 2015, Bill Cosby was charged with drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home in 2004 — the first criminal charges brought against the comedian and author. In response, the Little Bill series was threatened with removal from communal shelves and reading prizes, making it No. 9 on the Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016.
The Little Bill series launched in 1997. Although there are more than 35 books in the Little Bill series — published by Scholastic, Cartwheel, Golden Books or Simon Spotlight/Nick Jr. — Scholastic credits Cosby with 13 of them on the author’s page.
Told through the protagonist’s point of view, Bill explores how to react to situations such as playground bullies, rainy day boredom and stuffy adult parties. Each Scholastic book includes a letter to parents, outlining tips for helping children deal with issues introduced in the book. Three books found a place in Oprah’s Book Club in 1997, and the series was later turned into an Emmy-winning animated series on CBS.
While Cosby is the first author to be ranked on the Top Ten list for his actions and not the content of his books, there are other authors who are criticized for their behaviors and beliefs. Among the classic authors — revered for their writing but despised for their bigotry — are T.S. Eliot, Roald Dahl, Edith Wharton and Dr. Seuss.
A review from School Library Journal states, “While the writing is nothing extraordinary, Cosby has a good grasp of the issues and how the world looks through children’s eyes. The primarily African-American characters also make these books welcome additions to easy-reader collections.”
The list of the Top Ten Challenged Books is annually compiled by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). The office uses both public news articles and censorship reports made to the office to calculate the list. In 2016, OIF recorded more than 300 challenges to books, but it estimates that between 82-97% of challenges remain unreported.
Learn more about the Top Ten and this year’s Banned Books Week theme at ala.org/bbooks/NLW-Top10.
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