Celebrate Banned Book Week – September 30 – October 6, 2012

ALA's Freedom to Read banner celebrating Banned Book Week 2012

This year, Banned Books Week will be celebrated from Sept. 30 Oct. 6. Is your library doing anything to draw attention to these books?

Every year, ALAs Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The ALA condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information.

ALA defines a challenge as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. ALA estimates that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported. Therefore, ALA does not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges.

I looked at the lists from 2001 to 2011 and found that its really fascinating (and disturbing) to see which books have made the lists each year (or for many years). The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins made the list in 2011 (#3) and 2010 (#5) for: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence;  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie in 2011 (#5) and 2010 (#2) for offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group and my favorite book of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is on the lists in 2011 (#10) and 2009 (#4) for being cited for offensive language; racism.

Not too surprisingly, most of the books cited each year on these lists are young adult books but many childrens books have made the lists too for reasons that arent surprising either (unfortunately). And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, the picture book based on a true story about two male penguins that adopt and care for their own baby penguin wasnt listed for 2011 but was named more than any other book in recent years: 2010 (#1), 2009 (#2), 2008 (#1),  2007 (#1) and 2006 (#1). Why? For: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group. Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey made the list in 2002 (#6) and 2004 (#4) for offensive language, unsuited to age group; It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris is listed in 2007 (#9), 2005 (#1) and 2003 (#7) for homosexuality, nudity, sexual content, sex education; King & King, by Linda de Haan in 2003 (#9) and 2004 (#8) for homosexuality; and Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz in 2006 (#6) and 2008 (#4) for insensitivity, occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, and violence. You would think that the Harry Potter books would have shown up more because of being cited for: anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence but when they did, they had a high ranking: 2003 (#2), 2002 (#1) and 2001 (#1).

Lauren Myracles books, particularly the ones in this series, have consistently been listed over the years as well: ttyl in 2011 (#1) and 2007 (#1), ttfn in 2009 (#1), and  l8r,g8r in 2008 (#3) for offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group.

Cover of book The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen ChboskyOne of the most highly anticipated YA movies of this fall that just opened on September 21st is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The book it’s based on has the distinction of being listed in 2009 (#3), 2008 (#6), 2007 (#10), 2006 (#8) and 2004 (#5) for homosexuality, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group.

And we call ourselves an enlightened society? At least the number of reported challenges has fallen. In 2001 there were 448, compared to 2011 that had 326, with the highest being in 2006 (547).

To see more information about the most challenged books, or to see if your favorites made the list, go to ALAs website at  http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10

About Sharon Rawlins

Sharon Rawlins is the Youth Services Specialist in Lifelong Learning at the New Jersey State Library. She's a children's and teen librarian responsible for providing consulting assistance to the youth services librarians in public and school libraries in NJ.