Banned Book Week: Top 10 most challenged books of 2013

Mal Hartigan

Banned Book Week, Sept. 21-27, is an annual celebration sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) that promotes the importance of open and free access to information, and aims to raise awareness for banned and challenged books. Banned books usually contain societally controversial material, and are removed or restricted in libraries and schools across the nation. Banned Book Week highlights the harm of censorship by emphasizing the importance of free speech in published material. The annual weeklong celebration has congratulated librarians, teachers, booksellers and other players in the industry who work to keep nationally challenged and restricted reading materials available to students and other readers since 1982, despite the push for censorship.

Individuals and/or groups make attempts to ban books from classrooms and libraries through the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom to challenge reader exposure to potentially offensive language, violence, sexually explicit material or themes, strong religious themes or perspectives and racist material, among other controversial topics. Media reports featuring challenges to books are also used as a source, and are compiled with other submitted reports.

464 books were reported as challenged or banned in 2012, according to the ALA, compared to 326 challenges in 2011 and 307 in 2013.

From 2000-09, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom reports 1,639 challenges targeting materials in school libraries, 1,811 in classrooms and 1,217 in public libraries. Most challenges are proposed by parents – 2,535 over the past decade out of 5,099 total – followed by patrons (516) and administrators (489). And for each challenge reported, four to five challenges remain unreported, according to the ALA.

The most frequently documented complaint out of the 5,099 challenges reported to the ALA from 2000-09 was due to “sexually explicit” content, accounting for 1,577 challenges. Material challenged for “offensive language” was the second highest complaint at 1,291 challenges.

Here are the top 10 most challenged books in 2013, according to the ALA’s website:

1. “Captain Underpants” (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence

2. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

3. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

4. “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

5. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

6. “A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl” by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit

7. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

8. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

9. “Bless Me Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit

10. “Bone” (series) by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

This 2013 list and lists from past years are available via the ALA’s website at www.ala.org.

Notable literary classics from the 20th century have also been subject to challenges and/or bans in many states over the years. In no particular order, some of these famous novels include:

1.) “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Challenged in South Carolina in 1987 due to the book’s “language and sexual references.”

2.) “The Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger
This book was removed from classrooms in Okla. beginning in 1960, and the ban followed in Penn. in 1975 when parents objected to its “obscene language” and content. This title has since been challenged up until 2009.

3.) “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
This famous title takes place during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and was burned by an Illinois public library in 1939 due to its “vulgar” language. It was also originally banned in Kansas City, MO in 1939, and remained controversial until 1993.

4.) “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Lee’s famous work was challenged first in Minnesota in 1977, and was challenged by Kansas City, MO junior high schools in 1985 – specifically Park Hill, MO due to the novel’s “profane” language and racial slurs. This title was most recently removed from classrooms in Ontario, Canada in 2009 due to parents’ objections to the text’s racial slurs.
5.) “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
The book was first challenged in Calif. In 1984 due to contention about its portrayal of “man’s relationship to God,” “sexual explicitness,” depiction of race relations and African history, among other complaints. This Calif. Board of Education did not ban the book, however. The title was challenged most recently in North Carolina in 2008 due to parent concern over depictions of rape, incest and homosexuality.

6.) “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
This classic was first challenged in Texas in 1974, and later challenges included complaints over the novel’s violent depiction of man and its “bad language.” It was most recently challenged in New York in 2000, but the novel was retained.

7.) “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
This novel was first banned in the US in 1974 in Syracuse, IN, and many school districts followed suit due to its “profanity” and use of “God’s name in vain.” It was challenged in Salina, Kan. in 1990 for the same reasons, but to no avail. Galena, Kan. school library challenged the work in 1995 due to the book’s “offensive language” and “social implications.” It was most recently challenged but retained in Olathe, Kan. in 2007 due to a parent citing the book as “derogatory” toward blacks and women.

8.) “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
This title was removed from classrooms in Miller, Mo in 1980 after a challenge that accused the novel of making “promiscuous sex look like fun.” It was most recently challenged in Idaho in 2008 after objections of the book’s “many references” to sex and “drug use.”