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Books Under Fire

Banned Books Week calls attention to the most challenged and banned books in the U.S.

by Borgna Brunner
Antique Books

More information on Banned Books Week


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"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."
—Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, in Texas v. Johnson

Sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and a variety of other groups, Banned Books Week (Sept. 27–Oct. 3, 2015) celebrates the first amendment right to free speech, which includes the right to read and write books that are considered unorthodox or controversial. A banned book is one that has actually been removed from a library or school system, a "challenged" book is the attempt to ban such material.

As the ALA notes, books "usually are challenged with the best intentions–to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information." The three major reasons for challenging books are, in descending order, sexual explicitness, offensive language, and "unsuited to age group." Other reasons include occult themes, violence, promotion of homosexuality, promotion of a religious viewpoint, nudity, racism, presentation of sex education, and books considered "anti-family." The challenges come from both the right and left ends of the political spectrum. According to the ALA, most challenges are made by parents, and most are unsuccessful.

Some of the most famous challenges have been to works widely considered classics of American literature, including J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Probably the most publicized challenges in recent years was to the highly popular Harry Potter and Twilight series for promoting "unchristian" themes such as magic and vampirism.

The 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 20141

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
  • Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
  • Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Source: Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association

1. A challenge is defined 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, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.

The 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 20131

  • Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  • Bone (series) by Jeff Smith

Source: Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association

1. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 307 challenges in 2013. A challenge is defined 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, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.

The 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 20121

  • Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

Source: Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association

1. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 464 challenges in 2012. A challenge is defined 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, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.

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