Banned Books Week starts Saturday, an occasion many public libraries use to help patrons understand intellectual freedom issues and why their tax dollars purchase books they may find personally offensive.
As a former advocate for our state library association and library trustee, I have tracked the American Library Association's 10 most challenged books of the year since 2000.
Some observations: The majority of books challenged are aimed at "young adults"--older teens in library parlance. Some are on high school reading lists, which perhaps explains the "unsuited to age" challenge.
Occasionally, an adult classic finds its way onto the challenged books list: Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, and "Beloved" by Toni Morrison.
Books are most often challenged for offensive language or sexual content (often both). An increasing number of books are being singled out for homosexual content, including four on the list released this year.
Challenges for violence seem to be dwindling. Back in 2001 seven books were cited for violence. This year, only two, though "Beloved" is one of the most violent books I have ever read. "The Bluest Eye," also by Morrison, has been challenged for violence in the past, but not this year.
Satanism and the occult challenges are also declining as grounds for challenges. Just one this year, Alvin Schwartz's "Scary Stories." The "Harry Potter" series was usually challenged on the grounds of magical themes. It topped the list four years running, but fell off the list entirely in 2004.
Racism and insensitivity are also decreasing reasons for book challenges.
The perennial favorite (or un-favorite in this case) book is Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate Wars," which has been on the list since 2000, though this year it's in 10th place.
Two other frequently cited books are the "Alice" series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (sexual content and offensive language) and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky.
"Captain Underpants" also makes frequent appearances on the lists, but not this year.
I encourage people to read through this year's list and those from previous years (search "most challenged books" plus the year on the ala.org site). You'll find those you love (for me it's "Huck Finn," "The Giver," "Of Mice and Men," and "Harry Potter") and hate ("Catcher in the Rye" and "Captain Underpants").
Compare your loves and hates with your neighbors, friends, co-workers and spouse. I guarantee arguments! It's a good lesson in why libraries try to offer a wide variety of books and prevent citizens, however well-intentioned, from banning them from the shelves. It's a good reminder that guiding our children's taste and morals is our job, not the library's.
The ten most challenged books in 2006 were:
- "And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group
- "Gossip Girls" series by Cecily Von Ziegesar for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group, and offensive language
- "Alice" series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for sexual content and offensive language
- "The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things" by Carolyn Mackler for sexual content, anti-family, offensive language, and unsuited to age group
- "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison for sexual content, offensive language, and unsuited to age group
- "Scary Stories" series by Alvin Schwartz for occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence, and insensitivity
- "Athletic Shorts" by Chris Crutcher for homosexuality and offensive language
- "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky for homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, and unsuited to age group
- "Beloved" by Toni Morrison for offensive language, sexual content, and unsuited to age group
- "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier for sexual content, offensive language, and violence