Each year, during the last week of September, the American Library Association (ALA) celebrates Banned Books Week, an initiative started in 1982 to spotlight the controversy over censorship and highlight the benefits of free and open access to information.
According to the ALA, “Intellectual freedom — the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular — provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.”
As part of Banned Books Week, the ALA releases a list of titles available in U.S. public libraries and schools that received the most complaints or challenges during the previous year.
Here are the 10 most-challenged titles of 2010, as reported by the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom:
1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
For the fifth year in a row, this multiple award-winning book, written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole, topped the ALA’s list of most-challenged books. Based on the true story of two male chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo, who raised an orphaned chick in New York’s Central Park Zoo, the storybook follows the six years during which the penguins formed a couple and were given an egg to raise.
The reason this adorable book has been deemed inappropriate for children by detractors? Those darn penguins are “normalizing” homosexuality.
2. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language, racism, religious viewpoint, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group
Winner of the 2007 of the National Book Award for young people’s literature, this novel explores the inner world of a young teenager from the Spokane Indian Reservation who decides to attend a white high school. Alienated from both his fellow Indians and the wealthy white students at school, Junior struggles to achieve his dreams while feeling he exists in two worlds and belongs to neither.
Since its publication in 2007, parents and educators have raised objections over descriptions of masturbation, sexual language, and themes of racism, alcoholism and violence.
3. “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit
Banned in Ireland when it first appeared in 1932, this dystopia has been riling censors up ever since. Set in the year 2540, the science-fiction novel depicts a totalitarian future in which everyone’s life is predetermined and where, ironically, books are banned. The story serves as a warning about the dangers of oppressive government and the absence of independent thought.
Turns out, sedition isn’t the primary complaint lodged against this book — it’s the presence of profane language and racist depictions of American Indians.
4. “Crank,” by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit
This semi-autobiographical verse novel chronicles the struggle of a 17-year-old to overcome a crystal meth addiction. The protagonist, Kristina, is based on the author’s own daughter, who also battled the highly addictive drug.
Dark and disturbing, “Crank” is often attacked for exploring difficult subject matter, including addiction, abuse, suicide and teen prostitution.
5. “The Hunger Games” (series), by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group
This wildly successful science fiction/fantasy series aimed at young readers takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in the country of Panem, where North America once existed. The books’ protagonist, 16-year-old Katniss, must participate in “The Hunger Games,” an annual, government-run, televised event in which children fight to the death.
“I’ve read in passing that people were concerned about the level of violence in the books,” Collins told The Washington Post. “That’s not unreasonable. They are violent. It’s a war trilogy.”
The books’ brutality and savagery certainly didn’t deter sales; all three were national best-sellers. The trilogy has been especially successful in electronic format; Collins became the first children’s or young adult author to sell over one million Kindle e-books.
6. “Lush,” by Natasha Friend
Reasons: drugs, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group
Yet another young adult novel ruffling feathers, “Lush” deals with the hardships of growing up with an alcoholic parent. With a mother in denial and a four-year-old brother to protect, 13-year-old Samantha searches for a way to escape her father’s drunken abuse — as well as sexual harassment at school.
According to the author, controversy over “Lush” stems from a scene in which a drunken Samantha ends up in a bedroom with an older boy, who attempts to take advantage of her.
7. “What My Mother Doesn’t Know,” by Sonya Sones
Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
This book of coming-of age poetry follows ninth-grader Sophie Stein as she faces the struggles of being a freshman in high school, the confusion of romantic teen crushes, and the disillusionment of family life and a single child with distant parents.
The most common basis of challenges to “What My Mother Doesn’t Know” has been discomfort with the poem “Ice Capades,” which describes Sophie’s fascination with her breasts’ reaction to a cold window pane.
8. “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America,” by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint
Inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding 1990s welfare reform — which promised that any job equals a better life — investigative journalist Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join the working poor to find out how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour. Between 1998 and 2000, Ehrenreich spent roughly three months in three U.S. cities, attempting to scrape by on the salary of a low-paid and unskilled worker. “Nickel and Dimed” records her experiences and exposes low-wage America for what it is: a desperate fight for survival.
Although censors have launched complaints about the use of profanity and the depiction of drug use, the core complaint about Ehrenreich’s investigative book seems, essentially, to be her unfavorable view of capitalism and organized religion.
9. “Revolutionary Voices,” edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit
Subtitled “A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology,” this book is comprised of prose, art, letters, diary entries and performance pieces by GLBT youth, describing the personal and familial struggles of their coming-out experiences. Marketed as “created by and for radical queer youth” and “committed specifically to youth of color, young women, transgender and bisexual youth, (dis)abled youth, and poor/working class youth,” the anthology was a Lambda Literary Award finalist in two categories.
Like all things revolutionary, “Revolutionary Voices” engendered controversy and periodic flares of outrage. Critics attacked the book for being “vulgar,” promoting sexual promiscuity, and simply for embracing non-heterosexual lifestyles.
10. “Twilight” (series), by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group
Meyer’s blockbuster teen vampire series is not a newcomer to the list of challenged books. Meyer’s quartet of novels — revolving around a star-crossed romance between teenager Bella Swan and vampire Edward Cullen — are dripping with teen angst (and some blood, as well).
In general, vampire books accumulate a host of complaints from concerned parents and educators; the “Twilight” series has effected mobs of malcontents largely because of its high profile. Challenges reflect opinions that the trilogy’s supernatural themes contradict traditional religious teachings and that its sexual situations are too racy.
Still curious about what books Americans love to hate?
Here are the ALA’s 10 most-challenged books of the decade (2000-2009):
1. “Harry Potter” (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. “Alice” series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
4. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
5. “Of Mice and Men,” by John Steinbeck
6. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
7. “Scary Stories” (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. “His Dark Materials” (series), by Philip Pullman
9. “ttyl;” “ttfn;” “l8r, g8r;” “bff” (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Click here to see the ALA’s entire list of the 100 most-challeneged books of the decade.
What’s your favorite challenged book? Tell us in the comments section below.