Every year the American Library Association releases information on the most challenged books of the previous year. So why were books challenged, and which book took the most challenged spot?
A few details first: in 2013 there were 307 challenges made to books in public libraries and school curricula, down from 2012′s 464 challenges. There are a few newcomers on the 2013 list, some oft-challenged books, and some that are so ironic you might rupture your optic nerve from rolling your eyes in disbelief.
The list of complaints are quite vague because the ALA compiles this data from official statistics that don’t give us much information beyond broad categories, for instance “drug/alcohol use” or “sexual content,” s0 where possible I’ve provided extra details for context.
So, here we go in reverse order:
10. “Bone” by Jeff Smith
[Note: This entry actually covers data for the entire series.]
About the Book: The series centers on the Bone cousins, Phoncible P. “Phoney” Bone, Smiley Bone and Fone Bone, and their heroes’ journey after they are kicked out of their hometown. The series is high fantasy comedy, and the book, which was originally a comic series, is also illustrated by Jeff Smith.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Its perceived political viewpoint, violence and its depictions of racism. The more mature themes in the book, which is all carefully calibrated for a young adult audience, saw the comic book serialization challenged in 2010 by parents from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who sought to have the book pulled from school libraries. Specifically, the parents objected to the fourth installment’s being set in a tavern where, occasionally, certain characters drank alcohol and smoked a pipe. The District voted 10-1 to keep the book.
9. “Bless Me Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya
About the Book: Protagonist Antonio Marez y Luna narrates us through his coming-of-age and his close relationship with his “curandera” (roughly translated meaning shaman), mentor, and protector Ultima. The book is used widely throughout the U.S. education system as a means to explore Native American and indigenous cultures.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Perceived Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint and perceived sexually explicit passages.
The book has appeared on this list a number of times, perhaps most notably when it was challenged in 2004 in schools in Colorado, Kansas, Alabama and Michigan, usually for its realistic though not overly strong use of swearing. It has also been pointed out that the book frequently appears to be challenged in states that have an uneasy attitude toward cultural studies.
8. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
About the Book: A critically acclaimed coming-of-age novel that has now been turned into a movie, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” tells the story of introverted teenager “Charlie” and his various life experiences he reveals through a series of letters to an anonymous stranger.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Use of drugs/alcohol/smoking, scenes involving homosexuality, sexually explicit details, and being generally unsuited to the target age group.
In particular, the book has seen a resurgence in popularity since the 2012 film adaptation. The book is also one of the most challenged Young Adult books across the board, and has a long history of challenges ranging from it promoting bestiality (which it does not) to objections that homosexuality should not be in a book aimed at 12-16 year olds.
7. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green
About the Book: Miles Halter’s life changes forever when he opts to continue his education at Culver Creek Boarding School,where he meets Alaska Young, a clever and self-destructive girl that opens Halter’s eyes to the world while thieving his heart.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Depictions of drug/alcohol use and smoking, sexually explicit passages, being generally unsuited for its target age group.
John Green, in his other identity as one half of the Internet educational brotherhood the Green brothers (the other being Hank Green), famously took to his YouTube channel to decry accusations that Looking for Alaska is really “pornography” or “porn pushing” as one challenge in a New York school said:
About the Book: Josie, Nicolette and Aviva are three very different girls, and they all want to tame the same bad boy. But can they do so while still remaining true to who they are? The book has been a critical and word-of-mouth success that explores in a teen-accessible way issues like teenage sex, body image and friendship.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Depictions of drug/alcohol use, smoking, nudity, offensive language, and “sexually explicit” scenes.
The aspects of the book dealing with sex tend to be the most frequently challenged. In fact, Stone has said in interviews that she has been told by teachers and others in the education profession that oftentimes the book might be pulled from libraries by school administrators with no challenge actually having been made. They are, sadly, just aware of the book’s reputation.
On this and book banning in general, Stone is quoted as saying, “sticking our heads in the sand doesn’t change the fact that many teens are navigating the world of first love and sex. I wanted to deal with that honestly. I am writing for teens, not their parents. If you restrict availability of material that some teens need, you are not helping them grow and become self-aware. It is not a how-to book for goodness sake; in fact, it’s a cautionary tale.”
5. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
About the Book: The series that probably needs no introduction, The Hunger Games and its two sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, follow the story of Katniss Everdeen in her often reluctant battle against the tyrannical forces of the Capital.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Curiously, it’s perceived religious viewpoint, and it being generally unsuited to the target age group.
In 2010, at the height of Hunger Games fever, the book was challenged by one mother from New Hampshire who claimed that the book had given her daughter nightmares and that the books perceived “lack of morality” (the books are decidedly atheistic in the sense that they are almost without mention of religion) and “violence” would lead to more of the same. Sadly, with every title release and every film release, those calls seem to return.
4. “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James
About the Book: The erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James is the first book in the Fifty Shades trilogy and tells the story of Anastasia Steele and businessman Christian Grey. The book is well known for its perceived BDSM themes.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit scenes, and being age unsuitable.
The books were most famously banned in 2012 by Florida’s Brevard County which pulled copies of the trilogy from library shelves due to concerns over the sexual acts the books depict. The county quickly reversed that decision following a public outcry.
3. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
About the Book: The book centers on Native American teenager Arnold Spirit Jr., a 14-year-old from the Spokane Indian Reservation and how his life changes when he chooses to attend an all-white public high school outside of the reservation in Reardan, Washington.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Depictions of drug/alcohol use, smoking, offensive language, depictions of racism, sexually explicit content and generally being unsuited to its target age group.
In 2009, the book became the subject of controversy at Antioch Community High School after the book was placed on a summer reading list for incoming freshman. Parents objected to the use of racist language in the book, despite the fact that the use of such language is clearly depicted as something that male teenagers engage in but isn’t necessarily approved of, and the fact that the book contains sexual themes. What is unfortunate about this is that the book also carries a strong anti-teenage drinking theme and has tested as being quite engaging for young men, a demographic that doesn’t always enjoy reading.
2. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
About the Book: “The Bluest Eye” is the story of a young African American girl named Pecola and how she deals with issues like her eye and skin color in Lorain, Ohio, in the years immediately following the Great Depression. The book, like many of Morrison’s work, does not pull punches and deals with themes like rape, incest (a man raping his daughter) and pedophilia.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Offensive language, sexually explicit content, being generally unsuited to its target age group, and scenes of violence.
In 2013, the book became the subject of challenge from Ohio’s Board of Education president as a result of it being listed on the Common Core Standard’s recommended reading list for 11th graders. Ohio schools leader Debe Terhar called the book “pornographic” and said that it shouldn’t be read by even adult children. The book has previously come under fire from a number of legislators, with one Alabama Republican pressuring Alabama’s education authority to drop the book.
1. “Captain Underpants” by Dav Pilkey
[Note: this actually covers books from the entire series.]
About the Book: This is the story of fourth graders George Beard and Harold Hutchins and their accidental creation of Captain Underpants, aka their hypnotized hateful principal Mr.Krupp.
Reasons why this book was challenged: Parents/administrators complained the books contain offensive language, that it is unsuited for its age group because it encourages children to “disobey authority” (referring to the principal as an “old guy” and refusing to follow his demands) and scenes of violence (against some robots). A full breakdown of what is often challenged in the book series is available here.
This is the the second time Captain Underpants has won the prestigious honor of being the most challenged book of the year, carrying the title over from 2012. What a hero!
Photo credit: Thinkstock.