Case Study: Bone

Although considered a modern comics classic that’s delighted millions of readers all over the world, Jeff Smith’s Bone is also one of the most commonly challenged books in American libraries. Bone tells of three creatures known as the Bones, who are outcast from their home village of Boneville and lost in a human land called The Valley. In The Valley, the Bones find themselves surrounded by talking bugs, vicious rat-like monsters, magic, and the occasional dragon. Smith’s epic follows Fone Bone and his two cousins, Smiley and Phoney, as they meet the valley’s denizens, become embroiled in their society, and discover their own heroism in confrontation with the rat creatures and their mystical master, the Lord of Locusts.

According to ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, the Bone series has faced several challenges and at least one ban over the years. (Some cases that were reported directly to OIF by librarians or teachers have incomplete information in order to maintain the submitters’ anonymity.) In 2009 some or all of the series was apparently removed from an unidentified New Jersey school library in response to a parent’s complaint that it was unsuited to the students’ age group.

In 2010, a Minnesota parent petitioned for the series’ removal from her son’s school library. Ramona DeLay’s son had just graduated the local DARE anti-drug program when she discovered images she believed to be promoting drinking and smoking in the comic her son was reading. A letter from Smith decrying the ban attempt was read aloud at the review committee’s hearing, and the challenge was ultimately rejected by a 10-1 vote, to the praise of Smith and CBLDF.

In 2011 an anonymous submitter from a New Mexico school district told OIF that “a parent from an elementary school complained to a board member about [smoking and drinking in] book #4, The Dragonslayer, and the board member told administration about it.” The entire series was subsequently removed from all classrooms and libraries in the district with no oversight or review process.

In 2012 Bone was relocated from a Texas elementary school to a junior high school in the same district because of another “unsuited for age group” complaint. Finally in 2013 it was challenged twice more in Texas schools, at Colleyville Elementary School in Colleyville and Whitley Road Elementary in Watauga. In the latter case the unidentified complainant said that vol. 2, The Great Cow Race, was “politically, racially, or socially offensive,” while the parent in Colleyville complained of “violence or horror” in the entire series. Both school districts reviewed the books and opted to keep them where they were.

Because of the Texas challenges, Bone came in at #10 on ALA’s list of books frequently challenged in 2013. Smith responded to the inclusion of Bone on the list shortly after ALA announced it in early 2014:

I learned this weekend that Bone has been challenged on the basis of “political viewpoint, racism and violence.” I have no idea what book these people read. After fielding these and other charges for a while now, I’m starting to think such outrageous accusations (really, racism?) say more about the people who make them than about the books themselves.