Well, I missed it: the week of Sept. 27–Oct. 3 is Banned Books Week. I guess I missed that headline because I was too busy reading.
Banned Books Week was the brainchild of the American Library Association and other organizations in 1982, when the Supreme Court ruled in Island Trees School District v. Pico that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content. Now more than 14 organizations sponsor the week and reach an estimated 2.8 billion readers and 90,000 industry professionals.
The banned book lists are based on information gathered from media stories and voluntary reports sent to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom from communities across the United States. However, surveys indicate that 82–97 percent of book challenges—documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries—go unreported.
I read about the list back in the 1980s and was shocked to discover that Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, a book that had profoundly moved me, was on it. It turns out that The Bluest Eye is one of the most frequently banned books of the last decade. Other classics that have hit the list in the last 10 years are Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee seems to have made the list every year since it was written. (For more frequently challenged books, go here.)
In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, 531 books, magazines, films, and databases were the subject of censorship efforts. But here’s a positive note: More than 200 books featuring LGBTQIA+ content were donated to the Public Library of Orange City, Iowa, after a political activist burned four books featuring such content. (For more on how many books are challenged and by whom, go here. )
Although I missed the party, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is that most of these books remain available, thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who speak out for the freedom to read. Thank you!
So, have you read any banned books lately? The following titles (many of them for a younger audience) hit the top-10 list in the last three years. I arranged them alphabetically since many of the titles appear all three years in various placements on the list.
Top Ten Banned Books 2017–2019
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss; illustrated by EG Keller
Banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ content, and for political and religious viewpoints
Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
This Stonewall Honor Award-winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”
George by Alex Gino
Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings; illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack; illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg; illustrated by Fiona Smyth
This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex education and is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
Skippyjon Jones series written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
Challenged for depicting stereotypes of Mexican culture
And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; illustrated by Henry Cole
Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman; illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki; illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and certain illustrations
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content
Wow. This country still has a huge issue with sex, doesn’t it? Also race and religion. Sheesh.
It sure does! One of the articles I read on the ALA site mentioned how some of the issues in the challenged books had shifted a bit and now the primary “objectionable” topics are LGBTQIA-related.
Captain Underpants – really? Surely book-banners can find a more useful way to spend their time.